The Ballad of a Small Player
‘I waited patiently for the next hand to be played out, and I had a feeling it was going to be a Natural, a perfect nine.’
His name is Lord Doyle.
His plan: to gamble away his last days in the dark and decadent casino halls of Macau.
His game: baccarat punto blanco — ‘that slutty dirty queen of casino card games.’
Though Doyle is not a Lord at all. He is a fake; a corrupt lawyer who has spent a career siphoning money from rich clients. And now he is on the run, determined to send the money – and himself – up in smoke.
So begins a beguiling, elliptical velvet rope of a plot: a sharp suit, yellow kid gloves, another naughty lemonade and an endless loop of small wins and losses. When Lady Luck arrives in the form of Dao-Ming, a beautiful yet enigmatic lost soul, so begins a spectacular and unnatural winning streak in which millions come Doyle’s way. But in these shadowy dens of risk and compulsion, in a land governed by superstition, Doyle knows that when the bets are high, the stakes are even greater.
The Ballad of a Small Player is a sleek, dark-hearted masterpiece: a ghost story set in the land of the living, and a decadent morality tale of a Faustian pact made, not with the devil, but with fortune’s fickle hand.
This is a good, fast read about what it is to win, and what it is to lose -- William Leith * Evening Standard * Osborne shows an impeccable facility for capturing the sweat-soaked suspense of the high-stakes card table * New Yorker * Just as Doyle's game of choice, Baccarat, urges him to keep turning over one hand after another, Osborne's sharp, compelling prose is equally addictive - just one more page, one more page -- Jim Dempsey * Bookmunch * A bleak and enjoyable account of someone who, perhaps through unacknowledged guilt, finds bitter solace in losing and in driving himself towards extinction. -- Simon Baker * Spectator * Compelling... following Doyle's drift from card table to hotel to humid streets is immersive and will leave you restless, looking for stamps in your passport... * Emerald Street * A brisk, electrifying read, as elegant in negotiating the rackety world it depicts as its bow-tied narrator -- Rachel Cooke * Observer * Lawrence Osborne's latest will leave you breathless... [It] will screw up your guts with anxiety, fill you with hope and then kick you hard in the b****cks all in one well-weighted read. No need to gamble -- it's an absolute winner of a book. -- Jon Wise * Weekend Sport * 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. -- Gerard Woodward * Guardian * With its ex-pat angst and debauched air of moral ambiguity set amid the sinister demi-monde of the Far East's corrupt gambling dens, Osborne's darkly introspective study of decline and decay conjures apt comparisons to Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, and V. S. Naipaul. * Booklist * A searing portrait of addiction and despair set in the glittering world of Macau's casinos.... 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. Osborne's intriguing Chinese milieu and exquisite prose mark this work as a standout. -- Starred review * Publisher's Weekly * Hypnotic, razor-sharp in its insights, compelling... in Osborne's hands, the moments of suspense are handled with so much skill that we sometimes read them more as memoir than elements of a thriller. -- Tash Aw * NPR * The Ballad of a Small Player shares the exoticism and East-West disconnect of The Quiet American, the unresolved supernaturalism of The Heart of the Matter and Loser Takes All's bittersweet relationship with the gaming tables. If Osborne's book is a love letter to gambling, it's the kind written at 3am to an indifferent ex after an evening at the bar -- an ode to self-destruction. A brisk, electrifying read... the most ambiguous, and therefore the most enjoyable, kind of ghost story. The Ballad of a Small Player remains elusive, and is all the better for that. -- Adrian Turpin * Literary Review * Damn. Another writer I have to care about... dark, brilliant and about as ignorable as a switchblade. * New York Times * A perfectly written existential thriller, a spooky, gripping, heart-in-your-mouth read that has profound things to say about the only god who rules human affairs - chance. -- Neel Mukherjee * New Statesman, Books of the Year 2014 * A modern Graham Greene.... into this relatively quiet period for British fiction, someone remarkable and unexpected has emerged fully armed with a formidable, masterly grip on the British novel. At precisely the point where most novelists start to show signs of flagging, Osborne has hit his creative, fictional stride...and has arrived as a thrilling, exceptional talent in British fiction's landscape. -- Robert Collins * Sunday Times *
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