Joanne Harris is not exactly a new author to me, I've heard of her, seen the film Chocolat etc. but not read any of her books. Why? I'm not sure really. I liked the movie of Chocolat well enough, just didn't feel inspired to rush out and read the book or any of the other food inspired books by the same author, set in France. So why, when I spotted Gentlemen and Players in a charity shop, did I decide to buy it? Well, it sounded different to her usual fare and I was intrigued - it was as simple as that really.
It's quite a difficult book to describe without giving away spoilers. The setting is a small English public school for boys known as St. Oswalds. There are two first person narrators and two timelines. The first timeline begins as the school gets a new caretaker who takes up residence in the lodge with his only child, nine years old, and known to us as 'Snyde'. Snyde begins to explore the lodge's surroundings and, eventually, to trepass in the school grounds and then gets to know the inside of the school like the back of his hand. Unhappily attending a local comprehensive, it eventually becomes Snyde's dream and obsession to attend St. Oswalds. A uniform is stolen, and with a thorough knowledge of the school to help, Snyde slowly but surely becomes a St. Oswald's boy by bunking off school or going sick at various times. It's when Snyde, aged eleven, meets Leon Mitchell in the corridors of St. Oswalds that things take a more sinister turn. Leon is a couple of years older, much more worldy-wise, a beautiful boy in fact. Snyde falls hopelessly in love.
The second timeline, woven in with the first, is fifteen years later. We're told that Snyde has joined the staff of St. Oswalds but there are four or five new members of staff this September and we're not told which Snyde is. Something terrible happened fifteen years ago and Snyde, in disguise with a new identity, is out for revenge. We meet many of the members of staff that were familiar to Snyde back then, in particular Roy Straitly, close to retirement, head of classics, but sensing that Latin is now a subject looked upon as old-fashioned by the rest of the staff and that his head-master is trying to pension him off. Slowly but surely things start to go wrong at the school. Articles go missing, computers get viruses and show images they shouldn't and then a boy, allergic to peanuts, nearly dies when a peanut is dropped into his can of fizzy drink. He's one of Roy Straitly's 'boys', as was a certain Leon Mitchell, and Roy is very protective of his class members and remembers each and every one he's taught. Something is very wrong at St. Oswalds and eventually it dawns on Roy that someone is trying to bring the school down. But who?
Pageturner. Pure and simple. Absolutely unputdownable. Read it.
I suppose I should say more. ;-) I didn't know I had a taste for this kind of psychological crime yarn. It was like watching a train crash in slow motion as the author slowly reveals a bit more and a bit more and you get more and more involved with the characters and their motives. There's a huge secret which I partly cottoned onto about halfway through but not the 'whys' or the 'wherefores' and my enjoyment wasn't spoilt at all by that. Harris creates a wonderfully insular setting. You can almost feel St. Oswalds, smell it, know it, love it as Snyde did. The school is really a third main character and because of that you can almost understand and empathise with what Snyde does. I'm not a serious crime reader in any way, shape, or fashion so this must have been a bit special to hook me the way it did. It was. Read it.
I have read four Joanne Harris books but this sounds quite different. I'm intrigued by your description and will certainly look it up. I have forsworn buying any books until my TBR pile has reduced significantly but I could try out the local library!
Between you and Chris I stay broke!! I've got to cut down buying!! (sounds good huh?!) I am sending for the other two books to The Hollow Kingdom next week and then I HAVE TO NOT BUY more until October when Inkdeath and Indigo King come out (thankfully neither are real expensive) because the end of October is the autograph show and I have to set money away for that starting now or I"ll be S.O.L !!! arggggghhhh lol I think I need to become your neighbor.. then after we both buy books we can loan them to each other and thusly save half the amount of money we spend! LOL..
I loved this book as well - it's better than Chocolat (but I liked that too). I have The Lollipop shoes to read soon.
Hi M. Not having read other JHs I don't know if it is different but some of the Amazon reviews seem to indicate that it is. I think the library would be a good place to look, I've just picked up Five Quarters of the Orange from ours - it all saves a penny or two and helps the tbr pile not to get any bigger.
Sorry, Pat! Yep, the obvious answer is for me to move to NJ or you to England. What a time we'd have!
Booksplease: I've just picked up Five Quarters of the Orange from the library and note that they have quite a nice selection of JH's books there. I'm guessing I'll be reading Chocolat at some stage. The one about nuns sounds quite good too...
LOL! oh trust me, you do not want to live near where I live!! There are nice parts of NJ but I'm not in one of them! Awwwww, guess that means I have to move to England !! oh wait.. that means shipping all my books there! ACK!! lol lol
I was unable to get on with Joanne Harris until I read this one and yes, a page turner it is, with a twist at the end. Since then I have tried others but they are all so different it is amazing
I have another Joanne Harris book to read. I hope it's as good as this one.
I thought this was excellent, too. I totally didn't see the twist at the end coming, but once it came I couldn't believe I didn't spot it. It is definitely a page turner and very unlike her other novels.
To tell the truth, Pat, right now any part of the US would suit me just fine! I'm thinking we could split the year... you come to England for 6 months and I'll come over to NJ for 6. I reckon that's a plan. ;-))))
Hi Elaine. Yes, it's funny but I think G&P might be my introduction to Joanne Harris too. I do hope she plans to write more in this vein though. Someone recommended Barbara Vine as someone who writes similar books, so I'll have to get something by her from the library.
Framed: I think most of JH's books are very readable, I've just not felt inclined to try any before now.
Danielle: I spotted who Snyde was but (trying not to spoil it for anyone else by saying the wrong thing here) not 'how' Snyde was that was that person, if you understand me. Yes, I gather JH's other books are very different - so now I'm wondering who else writes this type of book. I'm told Barbara Vine does...
LOL..hey! I like the way you think! lol
Oh, I love Joanne Harris. I don't know if Gentleman & Players is my favorite book of hers, but I liked it, especially the shocker at the end! Glad you enjoyed her.
Hi Susuan, I need to read more books by JH in order to judge which one I like best. I'm thinking that this one would always be pretty high up on the list though!
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