Friday, July 8, 2011

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

I had never heard of Joanne Harris before picking up Gentlemen and Players, and I had no idea she had also written the ever popular Chocolat, so I didn't really know what to expect. I was simply browsing through a bookshop and the name caught my attention. I'm glad it did as I enjoyed the novel quite a bit. Gentlemen and Players is written in the first person alternating between the protagonist, an aging professor at an exclusive boys school, and antagonist, a 12 year old wanting to be a part of the school. You get both sides of the story, with the author throwing in quite a few twist that tend to make your jaw drop in either unbelieving or shock even though you might have slightly suspected it was coming.

As the inside flap says:
For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, groomed for success by the likes of Roy Straitley, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. But this year the wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and information technology are beginning to overshadow St. Oswald's tradition, and Straitley is finally, and reluctantly, contemplating retirement. He is joined this term by five new faculty members, including one who-unbeknownst to Straitley and everyone else-holds intimate and dangerous knowledge of St. Oswald's ways and secrets. Harboring dark ties to the school's past, this young teacher has arrived with one terrible goal: to destroy St. Oswald's.
The alternating points of view give you a good picture of what both main players are thinking while still keeping many secrets from the reader. I found that I could relate to both in small ways and enjoyed getting to know them. One of the "principles" mentioned in the novel even came to my attention in the real world in dealing with my 12 year old son,(although with him, we weren't talking about murder or trespassing). The story begins:
If there's one thing I've learned in the past fifteen years, it's this: that murder is really no big deal. It's just a boundary, meaningless and arbitrary as all others--a line drawn in the dirt

Like the giant NO TRESPASSERS sign on the drive to St. Oswald's, straddling the air like a sentinel. I was nine years old at the time of our first encounter, and it loomed over me then with the growling menace of a school bully.


another child might have been daunted by the command. But in my case curiosity overrode the instinct. By whose order? Why this point and not another? and most importantly, what would happen if I crossed that line?
Joanne Harris does a nice job with the cat and mouse motif and if you haven't given her a try, I do recommend her and the appositely named novel.


seana said...

I haven't read Harris either, though one of my old friends at the bookstore used to read and recommend her a lot. I saw Chocolat, and though I thought it only pretty good, it worked it's way into my psyche in a funny, but good way.

The premise of this one sounds intriguing. I'll have to check it out.

Glenna said...

I liked the movie Chocolat...ok, I liked Johney Depp in Chocolat. I haven't heard good things about the book though.