Gentlemen and Players: A Novel

Gentlemen and Players: A Novel

by Joanne Harris


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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. This year, however, the wind of unwelcome change is blowing, and Straitley is finally, reluctantly, contemplating retirement. As the new term gets under way, a number of incidents befall students and faculty alike, beginning as small annoyances but soon escalating in both number and consequence. St. Oswald's is unraveling, and only Straitley 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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060559151
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/26/2006
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 304,067
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.02(d)
Age Range: 14 - 18 Years

About the Author

Joanne Harris is the author of seven previous novels—Chocolat, Blackberry Wine, Five Quarters of the Orange, Coastliners, Holy Fools, Sleep, Pale Sister, and Gentlemen & Players; a short story collection, Jigs & Reels; and two cookbook/memoirs, My French Kitchen and The French Market. Half French and half British, she lives in England.

Read an Excerpt

Gentlemen and Players

A Novel
By Joanne Harris

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2005 Joanne Harris
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060559144

Chapter One

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.

no trespassers
no unauthorized entry beyond this point by order

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?

Of course I already knew the school was out of bounds. By then I'd been living in its shadow for six months, and already that tenet stood tall among the commandments of my young life, as laid down by John Snyde. Don't be a sissy. Look after your own. Work hard, play hard. A little drink never did anyone any harm. And, most importantly, Stay clear of St. Oswald's, occasionally punctuated by a Stay bloody clear if you know what's good for you, or a warning punch to the upper arm. The punches were supposed to be friendly, I knew. All the same, they hurt. Parenting was not one of John Snyde's special skills.

Nevertheless, for the first few months I obeyed without question. Dad was so proud of his new job as Porter; such a fine old school, such a great reputation, and we were going to live in the Old Gatehouse, where generations of Porters before us had lived. There would be tea on the lawn on summer evenings, and it would be the beginning of something wonderful. Perhaps, when she saw how well we were doing now, Mum might even come home.

But weeks passed, and none of that happened. The gatehouse was a Grade 2 listed building, with tiny, latticed windows that let in hardly any light. There was a perpetual smell of damp, and we weren't allowed a satellite dish because it would have lowered the tone. Most of the furniture belonged to St. Oswald's -- heavy oak chairs and dusty dressers -- and next to them our own things -- salvaged from the old council flat on Abbey Road -- looked cheap and out of place. My dad's time was entirely taken up with his new job, and I quickly learned to be self-reliant -- to make any demand, such as regular meals or clean sheets, qualified as being a sissy -- not to trouble my father at weekends, and always to lock my bedroom door on Saturday nights.

Mum never wrote; any mention of her also counted as being a sissy, and after a while I started to forget what she had looked like. My dad had a bottle of her perfume hidden under his mattress, though, and when he was out on his rounds, or down the Engineers with his mates, I would sometimes sneak into his bedroom and spray a little of that perfume -- it was called Cinnabar -- onto my pillow and maybe pretend that Mum was watching TV in the next room, or that she'd just popped into the kitchen to get me a cup of milk and that she'd be back to read me a story. A bit stupid, really: she'd never done those things when she was home. Anyway, after a bit, Dad must have thrown the bottle away, because one day it was gone, and I couldn't even remember how she'd smelled anymore.

Christmas approached, bringing bad weather and even more work for the porter to deal with, so we never did get to have tea on the lawns. On the other hand, I was happy enough. A solitary child even then; awkward in company; invisible at school. During the first term I kept to myself; stayed out of the house; played in the snowy woods behind St. Oswald's and explored every inch of the school's perimeter -- making sure never to cross the forbidden line.

I discovered that most of St. Oswald's was screened from public view; the main building by a long avenue of linden trees -- now bare -- which bordered the drive, and the land surrounded on all sides by walls and hedges. But through the gates I could see those lawns -- mowed to banded perfection by my father -- the cricket grounds with their neat hedges; the chapel with its weather vane and its inscriptions in Latin. Beyond that lay a world as strange and remote in my eyes as Narnia or Oz; a world to which I could never belong.

My own school was called Abbey Road Juniors; a squat little building on the council estate, with a bumpy playground built on a slant and two entrance gates with boys and girls written above them in sooty stone. I'd never liked it; but even so I dreaded my arrival at Sunnybank Park, the sprawling comprehensive that I was destined by postcode to attend.

Since my first day at Abbey Road I'd watched the Sunnybankers -- cheap green sweatshirts with the school logo on the breast, nylon rucksacks, fag ends, hair spray -- with growing dismay. They would hate me, I knew it. They would take one look at me and they would hate me. I sensed it immediately. I was skinny; undersized; a natural hander-in of homework. Sunnybank Park would swallow me whole.

I pestered my father. "Why? Why the Park? Why there?"

"Don't be a sissy. There's nothing wrong with the Park, kid. It's just a school. They're all the bloody same."

Well, that was a lie. Even I knew that. It made me curious; it made me resentful. And now, as spring began to quicken over the bare land and white buds burst from the blackthorn hedges, I looked once more at that no trespassers sign, painstakingly lettered in my father's hand, and asked myself: Whose ORDER? Why this point and not another? And, with an increasing sense of urgency and impatience: What would happen if I crossed that line?


Excerpted from Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris Copyright © 2005 by Joanne Harris. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Gentlemen and Players 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 64 reviews.
onion_girl More than 1 year ago
This is the third book written by Joanne Harris that I've read and I have to say it is my favorite. As soon as I finished I wanted to go back a do it all over again. I love the character of Roy Straitley and the setting of St. Oswalds. The plot is ever compelling with twists and turns, cunning and heart. I listened to the unabridged audiobook version of this book and if you can find it I highly recommend it. I'm an avid reader of books with my eyes and my ears. I love the freedom of being able to immerse myself in a story even while driving, grocery shopping or cleaning the house. What made the audiobook version of this novel stand out was the rich baritone of Steven Pacey delivering Ms. Harris' fluid and intelligent prose. This book shares the texture and community of Dead Poet's Society while being unique in it's plot and characters. Roy Straitley has some outstandingly snarky sotto voce lines in the story that gave me to giggling and lent the character a depth and warmth that made him approachable even for a female reader half his age. Read this book, listen to this book...whatever you do don't miss this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Audere. Agere. Auferre. ¿To dare, to strive, to conquer¿ is the motto of St. Oswald¿s School, setting of this brilliant two-person POV novel by the half-British, half-French author of Chocolat. In that motto lay not only the raison d¿être of the villain, but also a major identity clue. Almost nothing is what it seems in this beautifully written high-stakes tale of revenge. The revelations and reversals require careful reading. Manipulative? Yes. But then any author who names her characters as if they were in a morality play is openly inviting the reader to pay close attention.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Even if you figure out the "twist" before the end, you will enjoy this book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had trouble putting this book down. The portrait of the stuffy old English boys' school in decline rolled around my head the way you let a fine wine swirl around your mouth, always sure you have missed a hint of some other flavor. Though I was able to figure out what was happening before the ending, I really enjoyed the ride and frequently was almost convinced I was wrong. Loved the book. One of her best.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It took a bit to get into this book but once I did it was difficult to put it down.
Stemline More than 1 year ago
As the jacket blurb says, there are enough plot twists to keep you almost permanently off balance, although the book is not truly a mystery. The depiction of an elite private school is interesting to those of us who have never attended one.
janglen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a gripping story and the author provides enough clues for you to work out who the culprit is by about half way through the book - by a process of elimination with an open mind. I couldn't put the book down, but nor did I enjoy it. Mine was a purely personal response - I loathed the constant sense of impending disaster, and the sheer nastiness of the main character. Right from the start I found it reminiscent of Fay Weldon's Life and loves of a she devil, another well written book which I heartily disliked.
Greatrakes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
St Oswald's public school is the setting for this brilliant comic novel. Told by three protagonists, two of whom are the same person separated by 15 years, and the other a teacher nearing retirement. The child/new teacher is, we know, the destroying angel, a psychopathic force intent on destroying the school in revenge for the destruction wreaked,by the school, on the child.The old teacher, Roy Straitley, is a dinosaur, a Classics master, being forced out by the management gobbledegookers who now run the school, the late Leo McKern, would have been a racing certainty to play him in the film of the book. As chaos breaks out, teachers are accused of terrible acts, things go missing, a pupil vanishes and the entire toppling folly crashes down, Roy Straitley gets close to the truth, but not close enough.Tremendous stuff and a great twist, as well.
gaskella on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. This is the tale of an obsession that goes very wrong, and brews plans for thirteen years before the revenger wreaks absolute havoc by opening a closet full of skeletons that brings a community to its knees. I¿ll say at the outset that I loved this book. It¿s a complex and twisty thriller with delicious moments of black humour set in a northern boys grammar school. The plot piles on layer after layer and turns at every corner, but satisfyingly just about allowed me to think I¿d worked it all out ¿ I felt very smug, and then wham! one last twist.The story is told from two viewpoints. Firstly veteran classics teacher Mr Straitley who is planning his retirement, but not until he¿s completed his hundredth term at St Oswalds. He¿s seen it all, or so he thinks, but the creeping march of technology into the classroom is leaving him behind. He¿s still good at staffroom politics though, and keeps on top of all the gossip. It¿s the first day of term ¿ new teachers ¿ how will they fit in?"I can usually fit any fresher into the appropriate category within a few minutes¿ acquaintance. The geographer, Mr Easy, is a typical Suit: smart, clean-cut and built for paperwork. The Games man, God help us, is a classic Jobsworth. Mr Meek, the computer man, is rabbity beneath his fluffy beard. The linguist, Miss Dare, might be a trainee Dragon if not for the humorous twist to her mouth; I must remember to try her out, see what she¿s made of. The new English teacher ¿ Mr Keane ¿ might not be as straightforward ¿ not actually a Suit, not quite a Beaver, but far too young for the tweedy set."Then there is the son of one of the old school caretakers. He had to go to the local comprehensive where he was hopelessly bullied - there was no place for him at St Oswalds. He played truant, and insinuated himself into the grammar school so well, that everyone believed he was a pupil, but he has been nursing a bitter grudge, and thirteen years later its time for him to seek his revenge.So, we have the two narrators, one young and one old, and two timelines ¿ the present and thirteen years earlier. Harris cleverly swaps between them throughout; although sections have clear breaks, you¿re not always initially sure who is speaking when. I love novels set in schools and combining that with a real thriller of a plot made this a winner for me. The teachers in particular were really well-drawn ¿ you can recognise all the types ¿ they probably taught you and I, (I had a particular candidate in mind for Mr Straitley). This is also a thriller with a great sense of humour ¿ indeed on Harris¿ website, she introduces Gentlemen and Players with quotes from Molesworth ¿ the funniest set of books about skool ever.I sped through this novel¿s 505 pages ¿ it never felt long at all and it entertained throughout, I loved it.(9/10) I bought this book.
MikeFinn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I¿ve read recently. A brilliantly executed, clever thriller, this book is also a mainstream look at love, loyalty, duty, transgression and identity.Harris conjures up two powerful characters, an old school Latin school master that I fell in love with and the killer who is brave, bright, and ruthless.But perhaps the most impressive character in the book is the school that consumes both master and murderer.Technically, Harris is masterful: two points of view and regular flashbacks managed with ease, crisp clear language and a truly ingenious plotI heartily recommend it. I look forward to reading the rest of her novels.
nordie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One I've been meaning to read for years (I met Joanne Harris years ago in Dublin and have a signed copy of this book as a result).A cleverly written thriller, with two distinct voices - those of the Classics tutor, and that of the killer who has returned to St Oswald's school after 15 years to bring retribution over the death of their friend Leon.It shows Harris' skill in that you dont really know who the killer is (or even really their sex) until the last few chapters of the book. Well you *do* know, in that they are the child of the school porter 15 years earlier, but who they are now, and who they are pretending to be is not known.
rachelfroude on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I found this slow to start with, and then couldn't put it down until the last gripping moment.
EricPMagnuson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent. Had me going to the end.
phoebesmum on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An engaging mystery set in an all-boys' private school which finds itself suddenly at war with an unknown assailant ¿ a war whose general is the elderly Classics master, and which it seems inevitable it will lose. Very different from Joanne Harris's other books; absorbing, riveting, and clever. It's slightly marred by a plot twist which, as with almost all plot twists, most readers will see coming, but other than its chess-game theme, which is rather wasted on a non-chess player, that's really the only quarrel I have with it.
edwardsgt on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Well-written novel of obsession and revenge, set in St Oswald's minor (British) public school. Lots of characters which I sometimes found hard to remember, but well-observed and humorous plot with several twists.
Eyejaybee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A marvellous study of revenge set against the background of a minor public school that dominates its local area. The book is in part narrated by the principal character, curmudgeonly Classics teacher Roy Straitley, who is just about to start his ninety-ninth term teaching at the school (of which he is, himself an old boy), and is dead set on achieving his century. However, he does feel beset from the various members of the Senior Management Team who all advocate new ideas which they communicate in a jargon-strewn lingo that Straitley can scarcely understand. The new school year brings with it a crop of new teachers, one of whom writes a second narrative which is intertwined with Straitley's. This new teacher had grown up in the school's gatehouse as their father had been the School's Porter, though they had had to attend the local sink estate comprehensive school. Growing up the teacher had formed an overwhelming obsession with to school to the extent that they frequently masqueraded as one of the junior boys.As a new member of staff this teacher sets about a Machiavellian scheme to undermine the body of the school, with devastating (though often humorous circumstances).Absolutely spellbinding, with alarmingly (deliciously?) close echoes of my own old school.Definitely worth reading.
craso on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
St. Oswald's Grammer School for Boys has stood for generations. Students and teachers have come and gone. There have been a few scandals but the school has survived. Now the institution is under attack from the inside. Things have gone missing, property has been vandalized, and teachers have been accused of incompetence and inappropriate behavior. Could the occurences have something to do with a tragedy that happened fifteen years before?The story is told by two characters; Roy Straitley, the classics teacher who has been at the school for more than thrity years and the person who is causing the troubles. Roy is loved by his students because they can tell how much he cares. The reader discovers what happened in the past through the memories of the person who is creating the mayhem. This indivual is obviously mentally ill. What I found interesting about this book, besides the well written story, was the great similarities between the British and American education systems. Some of the problems the teachers had with incompetent administation, changes in curriculum and overly protective parents are the same challenges faced by many educators in America. My edition of the novel contains an essay at the end on education by the author who was a teacher for twelve years.
CarolynSchroeder on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book started so strong and the character of Roy Straightly is just wonderful (same doesn't go for the other protagonist "Julian Pinchbeck"). I loved the catty gossip and reflections on both the administration and staff of the school. The book is well written, good, funny dialogue and some keen observations. I was fairly intriqued wondering who/how/what in regards to the mystery, but how it all "comes together" is absolutely ridiculous and unbelievable. It took such quanum leaps of faith, plus would have to rendered most of the (rather astute) characters dumb, deaf AND blind. In fact, when the big twist was revealed, I actually groaned. Ah well, what can you do. Goofy ending, but sort of entertaining most of the way.
sailornate82 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very witty and entertaining book, in the vein of a whodunnit?, amidst suspense and humor. Very good.
christinelstanley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great tale of revenge. Didn't see that end coming! Genius!
bhowell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a fabulous novel and thriller. St Oswald's is an old and prestigous grammar school for boys. As the fall term commences, trouble begins, at first annoying incidents, then growing more sinister. The classics teacher, Roy Straitley, finds himself in a life and death struggle with a dangerous opponent who has planned this attack for many years.Dark and sinister, but at times intensely funny, this is a great read.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It helps to think of this novel as a game, and you, the reader, as one of the players. There are many tipoffs that this is exactly the case. The title is one. The second is the chess metaphor for the novel¿s narrative structure, starting with the opening gambit of ¿Pawn.¿Understanding that this is a game, and that there are secrets and strategies to be figured out, I won¿t reveal too much plot. I will only say that the story is set in an English boy¿s school that is erupting with scandal upon scandal, and that there are two opposing players, two narrators, although one of them ¿ Roy Straitley, a Latin teacher ¿ isn¿t aware of the game until play is well under way.This is a fun read, an entertaining read, a good book for when you¿re sick or have a long plane ride ahead of you. It is not necessarily great literature, but then it doesn¿t aspire to be, as the cutesy character names that underline the character¿s personality (such as the teachers Meek, Keane and Dare) should alert you. If you approach the book as if it is a game, then you should get along fine.
kousouna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was an interesting book in the end but it bored me quite a bit with its repetitive scenes of school life. It should have been shorter though it is only about 200 pages long! (i read it as an e-book)
jaimjane on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Both clever and disturbing, this thriller is set in an exclusive British boy's school named St. Oswalds. The envious child of the former caretaker who used to roam the halls in a stolen school uniform is now back as a teacher and determined to destroy the place where belonging was an impossible dream. The only one who stands in the way is the pragmatic and aging classics teacher Roy Straitley. He is slowly being edged out of his classroom by the new computer department but the intrepid teacher follows the clues to reveal a narcissistic and bold nemesis.The plot of this story is excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it develop. Harris is terrific at characterizations and how people interact in small communities. The various reactions among staff as minor mishaps turned deadly was especially fascinating. Harris revealed that she had actually taught at a school similar to the fictitious St. Oswald's for many years so that must be why it was so realistic. Roy Straitley was by far my favorite character and I rooted for him all the way. I guessed the twist early on but never figured out who it was until right at the end. But since the story was so good it was fun to relax and enjoy every angle.
jpporter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
POSSIBLE SPOILERS ALERT!I went into this book knowing that it had a spectacular twist at the end, so it may be that forewarned is forearmed, as I was able to figure the twist by p. 125. I would maintain, however, that an astute reader would be able to figure the twist 1/4 of the way through the book, simply by virtue of some of the ways Harris words certain things, and certain "revelations" that are encountered along the way. Still and all, very cleverly developed story, narrated from two perspectives: Ron Straitly, who has been teaching at St. Oswald's Private School for Boys for 33 years; and the pro-/an- tagonist, whose father was a porter for the school at one time, became involved in an unpleasant incident, leaving the pro-/an- tagonist with a grudge against the school.Harris handles the major twist quite well, and the introduction of a red herring along the way made me wonder if I weren't mistaken (I wasn't). The characters are well-developed, the institution of "private schools" is examined competently, and the sense of suspense she develops throughout the book is quite delicious. Her writing is first rate. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone exists who could turn this into a movie that was equally as effective as the book.I subtracted half of a star because I think she (1) introduced considerations in the conclusion that really had no significance to the story line at all; and (2) just belabored the ending, making the book about 30 - 40 pages longer than it needed to be.Well worth the reading - an interesting twist on the classic who-dun-it, consistently suspenseful up to the ending.I highly recommend this book.