A New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2014 A New Yorker Best Book of 2014 An NPR Best Book of the Year Selected as one of Kansas City Star's 100 Best Books of 2014 “Slim but insistent…A vivid and feverish portrait of a soul in self-inflicted purgatorio.”— Tom Shone, New York Times Book Review “Osborne, a travel writer, renders the atmosphere of casinos, hotels, and restaurants seductively…[and] shows an impeccable facility for capturing the sweat-soaked suspense of the high-stakes card table.”— New Yorker “Hypnotic…Macau and Hong Kong feel vivid and true in the novel, yet also otherworldly: Well-known landmarks and weather conditions are captured with a stillness and beauty that make them feel haunting and melancholy…But ultimately it is the uncertain fate of Doyle and the others that made me as a reader feel strangely fulfilled. The decisions they make seem connected to the thrilling and terrifying changes taking place around them. Old ways collide with a brash new world, and in this game, it is not yet clear which will emerge the winner.”— Tash Aw, for All Things Considered “Haunting…A captivating story about the nature of addiction, the power of the supernatural and the freedom that may come from throwing everything to chance.”— NPR “Elegantly told…The beauty of this novel is in the elegance and precision of its prose, which renders the glaring kitsch of Macau into a series of exquisite miniatures, and draws on Osborne's reserves as a travel writer.”— The Guardian "A searing portrait of addiction and despair set in the glittering world of Macau's casinos...Osborne's intriguing Chinese milieu and exquisite prose make this work as a standout."— Publishers Weekly (starred review) “Osborne masterfully recreates the atmosphere of casinos as well as the psychology of baccarat players—and leaves readers eager to try their luck at the game.”— Kirkus "[Osborne's] darkly introspective study of decline and decay conjures apt comparisons to Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, and V. S. Naipaul."— Booklist “Osborne’s The Forgiven, an Economist Best Book of the Year (and one of my personal Bests from last year, too), is as brilliant, unsentimental a rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche as you are likely to find. His new work proceeds in that tradition…Don’t miss”— Library Journal “A modern Graham Greene… Osborne is a thrilling, exceptional talent in British fiction’s landscape.” — Sunday Times (UK) Unavoidable comparisons will be drawn with Graham Greene’s work…[Osborne] has a masterful touch with creating mood, and a swirling, world-weary foreignness pervades the story. “ The Ballad of a Small Player is a layered work, a novel about addiction, love and class but given an allusive face by the way it perches constantly on some supernatural brink.”— Irish Examiner Praise for Lawrence Osborne's The Forgiven Selected by The Economist as one of the Best Books of the Year 2012 Selected by Library Journal as one of the Year's Best Books 2012 Year's Best Books Chosen by Writers, selected by Lionel Shriver, The Guardian 2012 “A sinister and streamlined entertainment in the tradition of Paul Bowles, Evelyn Waugh and the early Ian McEwan….This is a lean book that moves like a panther. Even better, Mr. Osborne has a keen and sometimes cruel eye for humans and their manners and morals, and for the natural world. You can open to almost any page and find brutally fine observations….surprising and dark and excellent.” – New York Times “Extraordinarily acute to human nature….Stylishness holds the book together, and makes all the bits of plot machinery feel new again….There are enough ways to read the book that one finishes it and immediately wants to start it again.” – Newsweek “A perfect storm of a novel.” – Fredericksburg Freelance Star "A master of the high style" – The Guardian "Osborne writes mercilessly, savagely well. He excavates his characters, and the centuries-long cultural rift between the desert people and the Western infidels with a pathologist’s precision, wrapping fear, boredom, forgiveness, judgment, honour and sexual attraction into a novel that plunges with sinister pace towards its denouement." – The Daily Mail "Brooding, compelling...There’s a strong, almost old-fashioned moral force at work in Osborne’s novel... At the novel’s dramatic close, you could accuse Osborne of forcing the hand of moral come-uppance just a little too much — but it barely detracts from the tension he has maintained throughout the novel, and the pleasure of his bringing under such scrutiny the unpredictable behaviour of his morally tortuous characters." – The London Sunday Times “With nods to Paul Bowles and Evelyn Waugh, Osborne portrays the vacuity of high society as gorgeously and incisively as he does the unease of cultures thrust together in the unforgiving desert.” – “Osborne comes up with an ending that’s at the same time ironic, surprising and completely fitting. A gripping read with moral ambiguity galore.” Publishers Weekly (starred) – “[A] brilliant, unsentimental rendering of contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche….Osborne has done an extraordinary job of capturing moral complexity, never letting his characters or his readers off easy. The result should be grim reading, but instead it’s vivifying. Highly recommended.” Kirkus Reviews (starred) – “In the desert, all life and emotions are stripped to their very core. In his elegant and incisive second novel, travel-journalist Osborne hauntingly captures this exposed essence in all its inscrutable mystery and dispassionate brutishness.” Library Journal (starred) – Booklist Online “No mere imitation but a contribution to the shelf on which The Sheltering Sky and The Bonfire of the Vanities also sit, The Forgiven explores the clash of two cultures, each of which feels superior to the other. Osborne's writing is uncomfortably well observed; his story is sickeningly, addictively headlong.” – Lionel Shriver, author of We Need to Talk About Kevin " The Forgiven shines darkly with a rich and mordant fatalism. Osborne's characters emerge like people in a dream – diamond-sharp but fascinatingly askew. His prose is gorgeous and precise; the story slices keenly through the exotic haze of its setting. It's an absolutely brilliant novel – the ending is a shock in the best way." – Kate Christensen, author of The Epicure's Lament and The Astral “The prose of The Forgiven has a very particular, knowing luminosity, much like the tarnished world it describes. A beautiful, compelling book to savor line by line.” – Nikita Lalwani, author of Gifted From the Hardcover edition.
Damn. Another writer I have to care about. After a certain age, it's as irksome to add to the list of writers one reads as it is to add to one's circle of friends. For most of his career, Lawrence Osborne gave the impression of being someone I could safely ignore. He wrote a novel in his youth that went the way of most first novels before carving out a career as a travel writer and wine connoisseur, but then in his 50s something jolted him into writing another novel,
The Forgiven…which turned out to be dark, brilliant and about as ignorable as a switchblade. Now he's written a third novel, and on every other page there's an image that catches the eye or sticks in the mind…[ The Ballad of a Small Player is] a vivid and feverish portrait of a soul in self-inflicted purgatorio.
The New York Times Book Review - Tom Shone
The latest from author and journalist Osborne (The Forgiven) is a searing portrait of addiction and despair set in the glittering world of Macau’s casinos. “Lord Doyle,” as he’s known to the other gamblers, is an English lawyer who has embezzled from a client and fled to Asia. Doyle spends his days and nights playing baccarat, which he calls “a game of ecstasy and doom.” At the tables he drinks fine wine, handles his cards wearing kid gloves, and slowly but surely loses. Doyle’s descriptions of the tables, the players, and the game’s siren allure are by turns touching, acid, and depressing. A fellow gamer has eyes that reveal “worlds of private pain.” A particularly garish casino inspires Doyle to muse, “There is something in kitsch that reminds you there is more to being alive than being alive.” But Doyle’s jaundiced eye barely masks his monstrous compulsion; indeed, the novel’s energetic portrait of the highs and lows of a gambler’s fortunes are as good as anything in the literature of addiction. Just when it seems Doyle’s luck may have at last run out, he’s rescued by Dao-Ming, a beautiful prostitute, whose genuine concern for him seems to rouse Doyle from his dissipation and downward spiral. But the novel subverts an easy storybook ending and reveals something much bleaker. Osborne’s intriguing Chinese milieu and exquisite prose mark this work as a standout. (Apr.)
Osborne's The Forgiven, an Economist Best Book of the Year (and one of my personal bests from last year, too), is as brilliant, unsentimental a rendering of the contemporary East-West conflict and the imperfect human psyche as you are likely to find. His new work proceeds in that tradition. The ethically challenged English lawyer Doyle has fled to Macau and thence Hong Kong, where he drinks and gambles his life away as he watches his finances sail high and low. A beautiful Chinese woman named Dao-Ming promises both love and money, but will Doyle's shady past smother him first?
The titular "small player" of Osborne's ( The Forgiven, 2012, etc.) new novel gambles at the casinos in and around Macau—and exclusively plays the high stakes game of baccarat. Doyle, our narrator and frequently known as "Lord Doyle"—especially when he's coming off a winning streak—has attained his money dubiously; he's an English lawyer who embezzled a pile of cash from a vulnerable and trusting older woman. Doyle doesn't dwell on this part of his past, however, instead fixating on the smoky rooms and betting parlors of Macau, where he's surrounded by other equally obsessed gamblers. We meet an intimidating woman known as "Grandma," who every night drops thousands of Hong Kong dollars to get revenge on her philandering husband. Doyle's most important connection is to Dao-Ming, a call girl with a proverbial heart of gold, the only truly human relationship Doyle is able to establish. His preoccupation—and at times his obsession—is the game of baccarat. We learn that each hand is inherently short, and the drama emerges from the enormous sums won and lost on the turn of a card. We witness Doyle's status change radically from loser to winner; since a "natural nine" is the best possible hand in baccarat, Doyle becomes something of a celebrity when he starts putting together hand after hand of these nines—and the proprietors of the casinos develop an understandable interest in this increase in his "luck." With his fortune mounting, Doyle plays one final hand—and decides to bet everything on the outcome. Osborne masterfully recreates the atmosphere of casinos as well as the psychology of baccarat players—and leaves readers eager to try their luck at the game.