Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris


I finished this book this afternoon and since then it has stayed with me rather strongly. I imagine among other things, for this book to smell like chalk, Gauloise, of old boys and new, strict form masters, pranks and pranksters, sarcasm, of all those things that belong to a prestigious grammar school and of a thin, reedy under current of deceit and violence. Joanne Harris has created a compelling portrait of a prestigious school, now poised at the brink of ruin. And on that canvas are all of those things that I have described above.

St. Oswald's Grammar school for boys is a school steeped in tradition and principle. For the boys that study there, St. Oswald's gives them that veneer, that edge. For the staff, men and women who have been with the school for decades and who have seen class after class of boys come and go, St. Oswald's is more than just a work place. It is all they know. It is home, and they are fiercely proud of it. None more so than Roy Straitley, sixty-five, the eccentric Latin master at the School who has spent his whole life at Oswald's. The staff at Oswald's is a patchwork bunch: There is Pat Bishop, the popular second master who is the very heart of the school, the less popular head, the newbies, forgetful Pearman, helpful Kitty Teague, the sanctimonious Geoff and Penny Nations. Over the years, the school has seen its share of successes and scandals, hush-ups, triumphs, it is protected by a powerful and dedicated old boy network; The great machination of St. Oswald's waits for none. The school it self matters more than anything and anyone else.

Into this place, one Michaelmas term, blows a sinister wind: there is a Jonah at the school. Someone with a grudge, someone who has come after fourteen years to exact a terrible revenge, someone who will not stop until St. Oswald's has been torn apart and brought to its knees. Slowly, pranks are played with a deeper intention; pranks no ordinary fun loving school boy would attempt, scandals brew and one by one things at the school start to go wrong and its loyal staff picked apart and framed wrongly for a series of shocking crimes. The culprit will stop at nothing: even murder. Who is this person? Why is there such a compulsive rage, recklessness and hatred in the revenge that the culprit has scripted for Oswald's? More importantly, can Oswald's seemingly inevitable hurtle towards ruin be stopped?

Without giving away anything, I will add this for the culprit: that a human being could act so destructively, for reasons small and big sent chills down my spine and Joanne Harris has done a splendid job at leaving things the way she did. In my opinion, the ending could not have been more perfect. No languid read this, there will still be some unease when you have closed the book, which is after all, natural. Things go on. Sometimes there is a satisfactory finish to things, sometimes there isn't. You don't stop living. More importantly, Oswald's will not stop. There will still be generations and generations of boys to be taught, come what may even after the worst of scandals.

Joanne Harris is better known for her Chocolat. Although I enjoyed Chocolat, I will call this book superior in the way she has handled the plot, the fantastic way she has described the life of a school and the luscious prose. Read the Gentlemen and Players on a long train journey, bus ride, an interminably long afternoon, a sleepless night. With the narration alternating interestingly between the perspectives of Roy Straitley and the culprit, it will leave you turning page after page. Joanne Harris has truly come into her own with this one.

10 comments:

Mrs. B. said...

Sounds interesting! I love novels set in schools.

Kals said...

I agree with Mrs.B - I adore novels set in schools. It's not only nostalgic, but has the potential for a captivating read.

This one sounds perfectly that. I'll add to it to my TBR list. And I might as well admit I haven't read Chocolat. Heard great things about it, though!

Bedazzled said...

such a wonderful review.. u make me want to pick up the book right away ! ..I am yet to read chocolate too !!

Booklover said...

Hey! Sent you an invite to join Book Reviews three days ago!

Waiting to see your reviews there too :)

Birdy said...

Wonderful review! I will add this to my TBR list, as I agree with Kals and Mrs B, I love school centred books :) And though I have seen the movie Chocolat, I haven't yet read the book...

Vaishnavi said...

@Mrs.B - I love novels set in schools too and this one is awesome!

@Kals - I somehow liked the movie adaptation of Chocolat better but this book totally blew my mind away!

@Bedazzled - Thank you so much! Read this book soon you will love it!

@Birdy - Thanks a lot! :)

bikerguy said...

wow!! amazing review...and yes, i love novels set in schools too (and you blinking because you hardly seen me reading novels, well i think i will love them ;))..it will certainly make me nostalgic..so another one in my tbr list (yea yea, one fine day i will pick up all books mentioned as tbr on your blog...now stop nagging :P).

Vaishnavi said...

avi - Thanks a lot! I will force this one on you. Just you wait and see :)

Pavi said...

Lovely post..Posts on school always bring a smile on the face. doesn it? especially for us:-):-) having spent the most beautiful days of our lives in the most spectacular school,I think reading this book will bring back some of those lovely memories:) You've given attend to details which is really good:) great writing:) sure to read this sometime soon:)

Vaishnavi said...

Pavi - Do read it1 It is available in BC :)