Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

Joanne Harris became a well-known American author after her book Chocolat was made into the movie with Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. While I enjoyed both the book and the movie, I don't think this was on of Harris' best. I enjoyed Five Quarters of the Orange and Blackberry Wine more. However, at this point, I would have to say I have a new Joanne Harris favorite: Gentlemen and Players. This is one of the most fascinatingly written books that I have encountered recently.

The plot in Gentlemen and Players alternates between two characters - the aging Latin instructor, Roy Straitley, and the main character, Snyde, whose identity is somewhat hidden. The story follows two timelines - one is in the present and the other is the reminiscences of Snyde's childhood. As Harris develops the story, the reader becomes aware of the troubled past that Snyde had which he blames on St. Oswald's, the school where his father worked as Porter and Roy Straitley taught. In the present, Snyde has returned for revenge.

I enjoyed this book on two levels. The first is Harris' description of life teaching middle school students. Straitley's observations about his fellow teachers and his students is priceless but also remarkably dead-on. Straitley had characterizations for each of the teachers - Teutons, Suits, etc. For anyone who has spent time with teachers, his descriptions are remarkably apt. Even before finishing the book I had no doubt that Harris had classroom experience. The high jinks of the students and the ability to get under the teachers' skin was entertaining and imminently believable.

The other memorable aspect of this book is harder to explain without giving away too much of the story. Let's just leave it that Harris is an incredible writer. I had guessed at one part of the plot but still had a jaw on my chest; book lying open; flipping back to check, double check, and triple check details moment. I was in awe at the way Harris had worded the book to not give anything away. Read it. You'll see what I mean.

Harris' books are not typical mystery. But there is definitely suspense and a reason to keep reading. The book is a bit dark - there is death and destruction. But, Harris is a really good writer and I strongly recommend her books.

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