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Gentlemen and Players

by Joanne Harris

St Oswald's, a private boys school, is brought to crisis point by a teacher with a strange and complex grudge. In the moral contest that follows, St Oswald's endures but it's not clear that there are any winners. There is a monster: is it the school or the murderer?

A book full of characters, incident and themes: cantankerous teachers; mischievous schoolboys; grumpy, boozy caretakers; midnight explorations in the ancient school corridors; rooftop chases; mysterious thefts; power struggles; accusations and counter accusations; revenge; questions of gender, identity and role; age versus youth; 'old school' authority versus new school innovation; privilege and deprivation; control. A rich and tasty pie! Irresistable - or so it says on the crust.

I disagree. The pie is overfilled and undercooked. Harris spends too much time telling rather than showing. The only compelling character is the old Latin master, one of the two narrators. I found it impossible to care about the other characters, a host of teachers and pupils and one or two others. Even the other narrator, the miscreant, isn't much more than a plot-horse and has an omnipotence, an almost magical power to influence events that is ludicrous and teenagerish.

A chess motif, flagged up at the head of each chapter and in the names of some of the main characters, in the end adds very little. This epitomises the weakness of the book as a whole: it is a puzzle and it's only as a puzzle that it really operates. It's like Scooby Do but a lot longer.

Suggested by Jeronimo, Bristol

Tagged with: intriguing irritating



I too thought it was one of Joanne Harris' best books

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