Summary and book reviews of The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne

The Ballad of a Small Player

By Lawrence Osborne

The Ballad of a Small Player
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2014,
    272 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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Book Summary

As night falls on Macau and the neon signs that line the rain-slick streets come alive, Doyle – "Lord Doyle" to his fellow players – descends into his casino of choice to try his luck at the baccarat tables that are the anchor of his current existence. A corrupt English lawyer who has escaped prosecution by fleeing to the East, Doyle spends his nights drinking and gambling and his days sleeping off his excesses, continually haunted by his past. Taking refuge in a series of louche and dimly lit hotels, he watches his fortune rise and fall as the cards decide his fate.

In a moment of crisis he meets Dao-Ming, an enigmatic Chinese woman who appears to be a denizen of the casinos just like himself, and seems to offer him salvation in the form of both money and love. But as Doyle attempts to make a rare and true connection, all that he accepts as reality seems to be slipping from his grasp.

Resonant of classics by Dostoevsky and Graham Greene, The Ballad of a Small Player is a timeless tale steeped in eerie suspense and rich atmosphere.

O n e

At midnight on Mondays, or a little after, I arrive at the Greek Mythology in Taipa, where I play on those nights when I have nowhere else to go, when I am tired of Fernando's and the Clube Militar and the little brothel hotels on Repubblica. I like it there because there are no Chinese TV stars and because they know me by sight. It is one of the older casinos, archaic and run-down. Its woodwork reeks of smoke, and its carpets have a sweet rancid sponginess that my English shoes like. I go there every other weekend night or so, losing a thousand a week from my Inexhaustible Fund. I go there to scatter my yuan, my dollars, my kwai, and losing there is easier than winning, more gratifying. It's more like winning than winning itself, and everyone knows you are not a real player until you secretly prefer losing.

I like the bars stocked with Great Wall and Dragon Seal wine, which you can mix with Dr Pepper. I like the Greeks themselves. Zeus at the top of the gold ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

In addition to the strong, contemplative narrative, Osborne’s sense of place makes The Ballad of a Small Player an outstanding novel. This book could not have taken place in the desert casinos of Las Vegas or Monaco’s Monte Carlo. In Macau, ancient Chinese lore mingles with Western ideals – luck is a decision of the gods, and insatiable ghosts of the Buddhist afterlife are believed to walk among the living.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

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Media Reviews
Booklist

With its ex-pat angst and debauched air of moral ambiguity set amid the sinister demimonde of the Far East's corrupt gambling dens, Osborne's (The Forgiven, 2012) darkly introspective study of decline and decay conjures apt comparisons to Paul Bowles, Graham Greene, and V. S. Naipaul.

Library Journal

Osborne's novel is seemingly a fictional composite of his own interests in drinking, traveling, and Southeast Asia. But the work is more than a personal diversion. It speaks to a larger, more disturbing universal truth embedded in the culture of gambling: one is always forced to act with or against the cards that are dealt.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.

Reader Reviews
Bonnie Brody

Osborne Knows Well the Emotional Realm of the Gambling Addict
Lord Doyle isn't really a Lord though he is called Lord Doyle in Macau. He is a crooked lawyer from England who has transplanted himself to Macau in order to gamble away the money that he has embezzled from an elderly English client. Macau is west of...   Read More

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Macau

Macau Penha HillLike Hong Kong, Macau (also spelled Macao) is a "Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China" (SAR), but is a fraction of its size - about 28 sq km, (11 sq miles) compared to Hong Kong's 1,100 sq km. The terrain is mostly flat and has a humid, subtropical climate. It is located approximately 40 miles west of Hong Kong, borders the South China Sea to the south and east, and China, specifically Guangdong Province, to the north. It consists of Macau Peninsula and the islands of Taipa and Coloane, and is a very dense urban landscape. Only 2% of Macau's land area is cultivated.

According to the CIA World Factbook, it is estimated that Macau will have a population of approximately 588,000 people in July 2014. By then, ...

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