32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Gentlemen and Players is a wonderful book which convinced me that nobody does plots, intrigues and denouements better than Joanne Harris. On the face of it, this is a straightforward story, of the jealous son of a pirvate school caretaker, who infiltrates himself into the school by stealing bits of uniform and surruptiously taking part in sports and games, and later lessons. However, this turns out to be a tale of high drama, as a number of years later, the school suffers various calamities which threaten its very existence.
The characters are very well drawn - Roy Straitley, the aging classics master is perhaps the key character and so much of the story revolves around his slightly embittered and cynical personality. Roy has seen it all before, and yet events take even him by surprise and he turns out to be a key player in the unfolding drama. But all the characterisations are strong, and several weeks after reading the book, I find it easy to remember the parts played by the various "gentlemen and players".
This is a "mystery" book - at its core is a complex story with an unpredictable ending. I recommend this book to anyone who likes a great story, and the feeling of being so absorbed in a book that you want to go on reading it at a single sitting.
96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2005
I must admit to being a little disillusioned by Joanne Harris' past few offerings. Holy Fools, Jigs and Reels and Sleep Pale Sister have failed to grab me in the way her food trilogy and Coastliners did. It was therefore with some trepidation that I began her new novel, "Gentlemen and players" I confess to having a preconception that like many of her other books this was likely to be a good read and enjoyable enough, but not likely to blow my socks off as Chocolat, Blackberry wine, Coastliners and the superb Five Quarters have. So I settled down to read this latest offering and I was hooked.
The story is a basic one. A nameless narrator starts off the book with their father living in the porters cabin at an esxclusive grammar school, "St Oswalds". After this first chapter however we learn that a decade and a half has passed since the opening chapter and our narrator has secured a job at St Oswalds and intends to destroy it. This story is intertwined with than of eccentric latin master Roy Straightley who is slowly being undermined and encouraged into retirement. Asd the story progresses scandals start to hit St Oswalds by way of a mysterious figure known simply as Mole (Our nameless narrator). As the scandals increase and even murder strikes St Oswalds the ancient school begins to crumble. This is when Straightley finally realises who Mole is, but can he stop another murder?
This is without doubt the best techincally written book Joanne has produced. She builds up through her dual narrative a crescendo of feeling and emotion. One cannot help to feel intreagued as to what will happen to St Oswalds will it fall and be lost forever or can Straightley avert the disaster. The ending is sublime and wil leave you physically breathless as the exciting denouement closes in. The idea of heading the separate sections of the book as the names of chess pieces and terminology is yet another master stroke, my only regret was the the final book was "Mate" rather than "Stalemate" which I would have preferred, but that is a minor point.
All in all this is a display of brilliance from one of the finest authors working today she is undoubtedly back to her very best form, this novel will rank alongside Blackberry Wine, Chocolat and Coastliners in the second tier of Joanne's work. A very good book, but nowhere near the masterpiece of "Five Quarters".
74 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on 2 April 2006
I was recommended this book by my wife who has read all of her books! Eventually I took up the challenge and was completely absorbed by the brilliant characters! The book is written from a dual narrative perspective and manages to switch from one to the other without losing the thread - it is a real testament to the quality of the writing that I was desperate to find out what was going to happen from both narrative views. Add to this the fact that the book has unexpected developments that hit you at precisely the right time and have you thumbing back through what you've read for clues. I read this book incredibly quickly and am still thinking about the way it all panned out.
In short this is an incredibly good book, very readable and keeps your interest at every page. It has a wry humour despite some extremely dark human behaviour!
I would recommend this book to anyone. I enjoyed it so much even though it made my wife extremely smug to be proved right! I now want to read her other books - apparently one is written from the perspective of a bottle of wine!! If she can pull that off then she is, indeed, an exceptionally talented writer!
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2005
The excellent Joanne Harris gave us ‘Chocolat’ cravings, intoxicated us with ‘Blackberry Wine’, entwined history and betrayal in ‘Five Quarters of the Orange’ and continued to enthral us with themes of magic and love in ‘Holy Fools’. Anyone who has read her earlier novel ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’ will be fully aware of Harris’s ability to write a very dark tale.
The new novel ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is another spellbinding offering, with a real twist (throughout the book I knew there was a twist coming but I was still startled by its simplicity and brilliance).
Harris’s earlier work are characterised by evocative description, sensual themes and magical overtones, while ‘Gentlemen and Players’ is written in a more “factual”, drier manner, which reflects the fact that it is told in part from teachers' perspectives. It is a brilliant read and the ending does not disappoint. The presentation of the chapters under the titles of chess pieces is a very nice touch. I highly recommend this and Harris’s earlier books.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 24 July 2006
I read Chocolat with a sense of obligation. I read Five Quarters of the Orange with a sense of plodding obedience. Gentlemen and Players I read like a starved child at a 5* Banquet. I adored it.
The dual (or even triple?) narrative more than provided me with a reason to like this book; the setting of the old private school pushed this book from like to love. Harris' description is nigh on word perfect. She successfully evokes the school microcosm to a tee: from the pupils to the staff, they are all present in their slightly stereotyped glory. And yes, the naming of the new staff is more than a little trite, but the fact that no one comments on this almost creates a sense of an in joke between yourself and the author.
The twist is perfect. I knew there was one, and I had my suspicions, but this, this was perfection. It had me re-thinkng through the events in the book to locate the clues. Like I said. Perfection.
More than enough to occupy you through the summer holidays, but I would not like to lump this in with the likes of the Abortionists Daughter, for it is more than a summer read. It is a 'read whenever you like'.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 July 2008
I am a long-time fan of Joanne Harris' work, so when I picked up Gentlemen and Players I was certain I would find a book that was exciting and completely absorbing, and luckily, I was not disappointed.
Gentlemen and Players is a book told from the first person (in two characters), about a child who lives in the shadow of an imposing private school where their father is the porter. They attend the local comprehensive, and their childhood revolves around their fascination with and abhorrence of St Oswalds and what it stands for. The story is a little slow-starting (I actually stopped reading it the first time I tried), and it does jump from past-tense to present tense, and the point of view changes from the child to one of the teachers at the school, but once you have read a few chapters it becomes easy to determine who is speaking and when they are speaking of.
While I don't believe that Gentlemen and Players is Harris's best book (I throroughly recommend Chocolat and Five Quarters of the Orange), it is still a thrilling tale with interesting plot twists. Definitely worth a few hours of your time.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 13 August 2008
Brilliantly written, you could feel yourself in the school amongst the teachers. The ever more dramatic twists and turns keep you on edge and the final surprise is utterly brilliant in conception. Having been initially unenthused by the subject matter, and really only reading the book as I came across it in a charity shop and had enjoyed 'Blackberry Wine' so much - I cannot remember enjoying a book this much in years. The only difficulty I had was remembering who all the various characters were, although wikipaedia does a good summary if you are easily confused, like me!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 11 January 2009
Gentleman and Players is one of the finest novels by Joanne Harris. She is truly a wonderful author. The proven ability to adapt writing style and introduce new topics are what makes Harris the nation favourite author . The Grammar school settings of St Oswald form an intregal part of the plot . Old traditions still continue to shelter St Oswald from new changes. Scandals ruin the reputation of the school. How can St Oswald maintain its reputation in the light of scandals and changes? A dark picture is provided of a grammar school as events do not always turn smoothly as unfolded in the novel. Although Joanne Harris novels are renowned for contemporary literature, this novel can be classed as a thriller to a certain degree. The reader attention is really huge with the novel, as flipping every page turns out to be gripping and your curiosity grows.
The narrative approach is compelling and brilliantly delivered. The novel constantly shifts between Snyde an impostor and a veternan Latin master Straightly. Snyde is a distrubed indvidual, with an obsession of St Oswald. We learn quite a great deal about the character background in question. The picture is rather alarming, but it draws sympathy to the character. Straightly is a stubborn, but likeable character, who opposes to new changes at the institute. There are constant shifts between past and present events . The narrative approach provides an excellent character perspective.
Gentleman and Players is an entertaining and thrilling piece to really keep you glued for long periods. Joanne Harris is truly a marvellous author, who can write good stories about anything that are popular amongst readers.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on 3 October 2006
Gentlemen and Players is ultimately (though not nearly as simply) a tale of bitterness and revenge. Harris uses two narrators to good effect, although this is admittedly confusing at the beginning of the novel. On one side we have Snyde (the player), who is planning to bring down grammar school St Oswald's from the inside, while on the other we have eccentric (and very likeable) Latin master Straightly (the Gentleman), who is potentially the only one capable of seeing the disasters that begin to occur around the school.
Harris' tale effortlessly breezes between past and present to good effect, and the two narrators are portrayed likeable by Harris, ironic as they are opposites. Snyde, although seemingly evil, draws a lot of sympathy when it comes to the child's upbringing. It is clear that Snyde as a child felt rejected by St Oswald's, and it this that gave much bitterness and hatred towards the school. We also see Harris poking a little fun at the snobbery of the middle classes and the grammar school.
Overall, Snyde's obsession with St Oswald's becomes the reader's obsession to, as the pages are desperately turned to find out what happens next. Harris is effective in her fast paced style of writing, combining thrilling writing effortlessly with suspense; making it obvious she had a whale of a time writing this. Although at times the narrating is flawed, and the twist at the end is a little inconsistent with previous events, this makes for a light and entertaining read. This is no classic, but nevertheless a highly enjoyable read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 2 July 2006
Upon reading this book, initially, I was confused whether I was reading from the one-person perspective, but realised three chapters in, they switch from one to the other. The pawn's personality and cunning is very concealed that it keeps you guessing who this 'Julian Pinchbeck' really is. Upon finding out, having reached the chapter where the identity of 'mole'/'Julian Pinchbeck' becomes known to both us and Roy Straitley (King), I had a bit of difficulty accepting the outcome. You'll understand when you read it. I liken the theme of the book to that of Frederick Forsythe's 'Day Of The Jackal,' though having not read the latter, but understand that it's about bringing a highly-respectable entity down through loops and flaws of law and society; showing how such an act could be done, and how easily.