I found this book, at the same time, gripping and yet difficult to get into! It tells the story from two people’s viewpoints, and from two different times, plus we (the readers) aren’t given the name or identity of one of the people! Therefore it is quite hard work to follow, and I found I kept flicking back through the chapters to see if I’d missed something, and kept feeling that there were sure to be important clues that I wasn’t benefitting from as I didn’t have all the information. But, the book has a fantastic sense of foreboding – the bitterness felt by the un-named character is very powerful, and you are aware quite early on that there will be a dramatic act of revenge. You are just kept constantly guessing at what this act will be, who it will involve, and when it will occur! A very ingenious way to write a book.

I do admire the author, I have read several of her books and like the fact that each one is completely different from others she has written. Usually an author sticks to a particular theme (like a thriller or a romance), or time (eg, the 1920s for Penny Vincenzi), or a particular setting (eg, a courtroom for John Grisham), or the same location (eg, Cornwall for Daphne De Maurier), yet every book I have read by Joanne Harris seems to be drastically different from the last.

The book centres on St Oswald’s School for boys. The first part of the book is told by the un-named character whose father works at the school as a caretaker, and the young child becomes fascinated by the school with its traditions, morals, hard work, achievements, etc, and longs to be a part of it, yet (due to their working class background) has to attend the local rough Comprehensive. The story then moves to modern day and is told by one of the elderly teachers at St Oswald’s. The narration then moves between this elderly teacher, the un-named character as they are now (an adult beginning their first term as a teacher at this school and looking for revenge), and as flashbacks to the character as a young child. Therefore it is through a very gradual process that we, the reader, finally discover the event that damaged the child so much, and at the same time follow their progress towards achieving it.

It is an unusual style, and at times I found it difficult to follow, but there is no denying it is perfect for capturing the reader’s attention. This is definitely a book I intend to read again, now fore-armed with knowledge of the character’s history and place in the story.

The book is filled with bitterness and vindictiveness though, and I found it quite disturbing in the way the main character wilfully destroys people’s reputations and therefore their lives. I found it quite sickening to watch someone’s life being categorically destroyed like that.

The novel displays revenge as a very strong and overwhelming force. The character is unable to see that they themselves caused the event that they are revenging on others, and is always looking for someone else to find responsible and to punish, when the fault lies at their door, but they are completely blinded to this. Revenge is as strong as love for not allowing us to see the truth clearly.

There is a fantastic twist in the book. I began to get a suspicion of the truth towards the end of the book and then could see clues plainly displayed everywhere – they were obviously being displayed throughout the entire book, but so subtly that, unless you guessed the twist, they weren’t apparent. Extremely clever!

Gentlemen & Players (Paperback)

By (author): Joanne Harris

At St Oswald's, a long-established boys' grammar school in the north of England, a new year has just begun. For the staff and boys of the school, a wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and Information Technology rule the world; and Roy Straitley, the eccentric veteran Latin master, is finally - reluctantly - contemplating retirement. But beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the school, a darker undercurrent stirs. And a bitter grudge, hidden and carefully nurtured for thirteen years, is about to erupt.
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