Gentlemen and Players – Joanne Harris – A Review

The very first book of her’s that I found, I read in a time of great defeat and transition, unknowing of the fact that it was she who authored the book – the original source material, of one of my favorite movies, Chocolate.

The book was called, Five Quarters of the Orange, and followed the strange, startling, stubborn tale of one girl growing up with a distant mother and her one connection to this imposing woman, through a cookbook.

I found the style of writing to be, not only wholesome, but calming in a way I hadn’t experienced before. It didn’t feel like I was reading so much as it felt as though someone was telling me a story. I could taste the book if I wanted to. Orange and berries and pastry and wine. She has a gift for making the reader experience food – a commonality in most of her books. She wants you to experience the hardships in life and at the same time, know the little joys that abound.

That being said, this story was quite a bit different.

Again I find myself in a stage of transition (admittedly a less upsetting one) and another of her books has made it to me by way of a used bookshop in town. The kind with the almost stale paper smell and bookcases almost touching the ceiling, and rolling ladders hooked to the stacks.

It tasted like cigarette smoke and dark beer and fried fish.

“For generations, privileged young men have attended St. Oswald’s Grammar School for Boys, groomed for the success by the likes of Roy Straitly, the eccentric Classics teacher who has been a fixture there for more than thirty years. This year, however, the wind of unwelcome change is blowing, and Straitly is finally, reluctantly, contemplating retierment. As the new term gets underway, a number of incidents befall student and faculty alike, beginning as small annoyances but soon escalating in both number and consequence. St. Oswald’s is unraveling, and only Straitly stands in the way of its ruin. But he faces a formidable opponent with a bitter grudge and a master strategy that has been meticulously planned to the final, deadly move.”

gentsandplayersWhat can I say? It’s a book about scandal, young love, revenge, and violence. Joanne has a way of digging into the truth inside people which is a difficult thing to do. We all like to believe that we know real people and so it should be simple to capture that reality and complication on the page. It’s not. And few have done it as well as she manages.

The characters are complex. Even when you know they are wrong you can feel for their struggle and the heartbreaking reality of their situation.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this book is an expertly crafted ride that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat by the end. With a reveal that left my jaw hitting the floor.

Was it my favorite? No – not really. I’ll still remember Five Quarters of the orange in a vividness that astounded me and I’ll always have a sweet spot for Chocolate. But, this was a fun ride that came just in time for Halloween.

Check it out at your library, or got ahead and buy it here.

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