Thursday, December 14, 2006

One of My Best of 2006 Books... due out any minute in paperback:

Gentlemen & Players is one of those rare books that grips and holds you like an elaborate conjuring trick. It’s only after you’ve stopped gasping – after the last page has been turned and marveled at – that you begin to ask questions. What did I miss? Were there any hints I should have noticed, any mistakes the author or her editors should have caught?

Joanne Harris, who has written everything from sensuous cookbooks to best-selling novels like Chocolat, immerses us so quickly in her frightening story of a child driven to murder by hatred for a school that her new book is both socially important and vastly entertaining.

At its center is a palace of privilege – St. Oswald’s, a British school for the sons of the wealthy and powerful, an escape from the real world they will soon have to face. “St. Oswald’s was another world,” says the troubled child who tells half the story. “Here I knew there would be no graffiti, no litter, no vandalism – not as much as a broken window…I felt a sudden inarticulate conviction that this was where I truly belonged…”

The other half of the story is narrated by a classics master named Roy Straitley, who has been at St. Oswald’s for 33 years and knows the best and worst of what the school really is. He at first seems like an unlikely and unworthy opponent, chosen at random -- but turning those ideas upside down is another one of Harris’ amazing tricks. The two lead characters play out their elaborate chess match involving unrequited love, revenge and violent death.