Title: Gentlemen and Players
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Black Swan [this edition 2006, original edition 2005]
Length: 506 pages
Gentlemen and Players is about an English private school for boys, St Oswald’s. The first of two narrators for the story is the now grown up child of one of the school’s former porters who as a child was a frequent trespasser into the school grounds and is now a teacher at the school bent on revenge for the real and imagined harm done to them by the school. The second narrator is Roy Straitley a curmudgeonly Latin teacher at St Oswald’s 33 years who is no less obsessed with the school than the porter’s child. Between them these two narrators tell of the events which made such an impression on the porter’s child and also show two sides of the current events unfolding within the school’s hallowed halls.
The school is the main character in the book as well as the location for almost all of the plot development. And although that sounds as if it should make for an interesting twist on character-driven stories I found it quite boring at times. The notion that every student, teacher, parent and even the other people in the town who don’t attend the school would be so obsessed with and in awe of a relatively minor institution is fairly ludicrous. If it had only been the two narrators who were so consumed by all things St. Oswald’sian I think the story might have been more believable.
Neither of the two narrators are particularly interesting characters either: stereotyped as they are fairly early on. There certainly wasn’t a single surprise in anything Straitley said or did and, for me anyway, even the more enigmatic porter’s child had a fairly predictable story arc. The book relied heavily on a ‘shock’ twist that I thought blindingly obvious from several hundred pages before the big reveal which probably explains why I was more than a little bored.
In the end I was just never engaged by this book or the all-consuming world of St Oswald’s and I felt the author’s attempt at clever suspense was a bit too see-through. The potentially interesting themes, like the class differences between a porter’s child and the privileged boys of a private school, were handled superficially and so failed to add much to what was, in the end, a fairly dull reading experience for me.
My rating 2/5