Excerpt from The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Ballad of a Small Player

by Lawrence Osborne

The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne X
The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Apr 2014, 272 pages
    Jan 2015, 272 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

I'm too old for you to worry about attraction, I wanted to say. And I am sorry for that. It mortifies me, but I cannot change it.

It was so crowded in this overblown courtyard that there was no room even to exchange a few words. She looked at her watch and said something about the hydrofoil back to Hong Kong, even though the last one didn't leave for a few hours, and in my experience with Chinese girls, when they are interested in you there is a very obvious slowing of their usual quickness of movement. She didn't slow. I let the comment melt away and then touched her hand for a moment and she turned to look at me and, in that flashing way, we had agreed upon it.

She spoke very quietly.

"Where can we go?"

"We can go anywhere. Not my room."

The light around us was a little brighter. Her bracelet was one of those multicolored childish objects from the Piper collection that are endorsed by Paris Hilton. She must have seen it in a magazine and let herself be persuaded into a mistake—the small circles of enamel didn't suit her at all. At least she wasn't wearing one of the hideous blue rings from the same maker. In the cab she would not touch me, aware perhaps of the prying eye of the Chinese cabbie fixed upon us in the rearview mirror (a gwai lo is always checked out), and I suggested an older, colonial place near the An-Ma temple where I had not been before and where—for some reason it mattered—I would not be recognized.

T h r e e

It rained along the shore. Along the embankments stand twisted fig trees planted by the Europeans, and they were still faintly visible in that darkness. Opposite, on the far side of the Van Nam Lake, rises a vision of China modern enough to chill the blood: the expressways, the towers, the garbled instruments of rising power. A terrible thing called the Cybernetic Fountain. But on the shore the old villas stand behind their sand-colored walls and the trees drip in the monsoon. There is a memory of ease, of the necessity of grace, white and lemon arches glimpsed between the fig trees. We passed near the temple as a soft thunder rolled in from the open sea. There are goddesses here who protect sailors and fishermen, and who protect the gambler, too.

The hotel lay at the top of a series of steep steps that wound around terrace garden patios with wizened trees and wet tables.

As I closed the door behind us, she said, "I am not the usual prostitute. You think I am. But you may have made a mistake."


"I'm not a whore."

In the room we sat on the bed. There was the sound of the rain and the smell of flowerpots. I poured her a glass of wine from the mini-bar, but she didn't take it.

Quite the contrary. There was no opening up. She held her legs closely together as her hands lay curled upward in her lap in an attitude of refusal, and perhaps, I thought, darkness was required. It was a venal thought, a crass thought. I went to the bathroom and turned on that light, then brought the bathroom door to within an inch of the jamb. That would be enough light for us, enough darkness to unlock her curious inhibitions. She brushed the water drops from her jacket and shivered. She asked for a towel to rub her hair. I took off my own jacket and then my shoes—it felt impudent, but there was nothing for it. She remarked on the rolling-off of the shoes and there was a disdain in her eyes, a sadness at the lack of imagination. Perhaps she really wasn't what I had thought.

She threw down the towel and decided to laugh her way out of this oncoming horror, because after all she could sense that I was not the usual customer. I wanted to apologize, and a woman can sense the imminence of a male apology. It's like a storm cloud on its way to hose you down.

Excerpted from The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne. Copyright © 2014 by Lawrence Osborne. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...
  • Book Jacket: Circe
    by Madeline Miller
    Towards the end of Madeline Miller's novel Circe, the titular nymph is questioned by her son ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Names They Used for God
    All the Names They Used for God
    by Anjali Sachdeva
    Pre-publication press has already compared Anjali Sachdeva to Kelly Link and other genre-blending ...
  • Book Jacket: Look Alive Out There
    Look Alive Out There
    by Sloane Crosley
    After a brief (and thoroughly enjoyable) foray into fiction (with her 2015 novel The Clasp), Sloane ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Other People's Houses
    by Abbi Waxman

    A hilarious and poignant novel about four families and the affair that changes everything.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.