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The Ballad of a Small Player

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  945 ratings  ·  199 reviews
A riveting tale of risk and obsession set in the alluring world of Macau's casinos, by the author of the critically acclaimed "The Forgiven."
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
Paperback, 216 pages
Published 2015 by Vintage (first published April 3rd 2014)
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Average rating 3.45  · 
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Well. That was a disappointment.

Update: I was wrong. I had, indeed read 3 other books by Osborne in the couple of months prior to reading Ballad of a Small Player. I thought I wanted a reading experience that mirrored one of those other books. Since every Osborne novel is a world unto itself with little in common with any other, my desire was guaranteed to lead to frustration and not the fault of Ballad.

Ballad is a solid 3 star read. The main character,Doyle, a British ex-pat, reminded me of th
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I suppose there is a niche audience for this book, but it does not include me. Not a one of the characters sparked any interest with me. There was no plot of which to speak, nothing into which I could sink my claws. The writing itself was okay, but the line 'A sugar daddy with no sugar isn't much of a daddy.' taints even this faint praise.

This was a first-reads giveaway, thank you.
Heather Fineisen
Lord Doyle is a gambler, a big gambler.He is a former lawyer with an unsavory past who has reinvented himself in Macau as a kid glove wearing "white ghost". This story is about money and morality and it is very sly. So sly in fact that if you blink you might miss it. Lawrence Osbourne introduces some artfully memorable characters in the form of Grandma, an older gambling, wronged wife who prefers to lose and Dao-Ling, an enigmatic, spiritual country call girl. Osbourne weaves Doyle's desperation ...more
Mar 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not usually into ghost stories or supernatural ones, but the Hong Kong and Macau settings sealed the deal for me. I loved this story and even the ghost part worked for me.

Lord Doyle is a great character. He's no lord, but rather an English lawyer who studied and worked his way out of his family's modest means. When he worked on the estate of an elderly client, he started to siphon money from her account. By the time she died, he had transferred all of it to an offshore bank account --in Hon
Several weeks ago, I joined a local reading club which is now reading this book. At that time, I glanced at a summary of the novel and at first sight, I wasn't sure that I would like it because I'm not a great fan of contemporary novels. But this one is set in Macau which, to me, hints of exoticism and mystery. So, I took up "The Ballad of a Small Player" and I was a few pages in when I became hooked on it.

The novel is centered on a British expatriate (and fugitive from justice) who is known as
Apr 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are novels about gambling, and then there are supernatural, opulent novels of gambling in Macau.

This novel is obviously one of the latter. And if I could offer some advice, don't read many reviews of this novel. I stayed away from them until the novel was complete, and that paid off in this case. 9 out of 10 reviews even here on the site give away some key plot elements that would have ruined the surprises contained later in the novel. The ones on the commercial sites are even worse.

What I
Rob Slaven
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
As usual I received this book for free in exchange for a review. This time from LibraryThing. Also as usual I provide my scrupulously honest feedback below.

The story runs basically along the lines of the standard ne'er-do-well gambler who runs afoul of not only the law but also the laws of probability until one day... he doesn't. That's really all you need to know and probably exactly what you expected.

On the positive side of things, the setting for this novel is fascinating and that fact alone
Note to start: I won this through First Reads. Thanks Crown Publishing. On with the review.

The Ballad of a Small Player starts by tossing readers into the world of Lord Doyle and the baccarat tables of Macau. Doyle's life during the novel pretty much revolves around gambling his money and drinking at night, sleeping late, and repeating the process. Down on his luck, he meets Dao-Ming, a lady of the night, and suddenly things go from bad to worse. At the bottom, Doyle, looking for her but not fin
Kasa Cotugno
Timing is everything. This is the second book in as many weeks I've read that deals with the negative impact of gambling (is there any positive impact?). I picked this up because it was one of the NYT Notable Books.

For someone who is not attracted at all to this subject, I fail to understand its allure and find such books disturbing. A gambling addict does not perceive any gains as a means in an of itself -- it's the chase, not the capture, that compels. A form of self flagellation. The reader h
T.R. Horne
Ah, the wonder of a Goodreads win. I was super excited to receive Lawrence Osborne's, The Ballad of a Small Player. It's a story of an older gentlemen who stole money from an old woman that trusted him and how ironically, he happened to lose every penny whilst being lonely and drunk for most of the book. Fortunately, Osborne is a very clever writer but unfortunately, he overused his cleverness. It was like reading a clever line every other sentence when in your mind you scream "Get on with it al ...more
Bonnie Brody
Apr 04, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Hong Kong, in Mainland China, and this is where Doyle plays his game of choice, Baccarat. For most of the book, he plays in a casino called Lisboa but he travels to other casinos in Hong Kong from time to time. He is nonchalant about the game whethe ...more
Stephen Durrant
A book about a compulsive gambler is nothing new . . . and it’s difficult to one up Dostoevsky or even Graham Greene. But the setting of this novel drew me in. Lord Doyle, as he is known in his gambling haunts, is no “Lord” at all. He is a London lawyer who has stolen an immense amount of money from an elderly female client and fled to Macao, where he is determined to gamble the money away . . . he is one of those peculiar gamblers who gets as big a rush from losing as from winning. In fact, it ...more
Jun 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-reads
Intriguing and gritty! Left me pondering.
3.75/5 I don't really have any idea what this book meant, but it was intriguing.... ...more
Agnieszka Małgorzata
It's a beautifully written book, but the treatment of the main subject (gaming addiction) does not seem to be worthy enough of the prose surrounding it, or maybe it's just not relevant enough for me. ...more
Mary Jo Malo
Jul 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even though Osborne's subject matter and characters are unpleasant, he's one of our most skilled writers and compelling storytellers. Rich in atmosphere, drenched in palpable descriptions and traditional masculine perspective, and a supernatural aura, Osborne crafts novels you can't put down. You feel brave just going where he's going and desperate in wanting resolution for the protagonists' psychological dilemmas, but you also somehow just want it to end well. This book takes place in the labyr ...more
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun read, albeit it in a guilty sort of way - which befits the material. The characters aren't fun to be around, and their circumstances aren't fun to be in, though if you are "a high roller," then I guess it would do something for you. It's fun in its pacing, in the extremity of the emotions, and it's written in a very alluring and addictive way. Instead of meandering too much, although there are parts where the action slows, but deliberately so, as if to observe the tip of the cigar ...more
Jul 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A character study in gambling excess set in the casinos of Macau.

The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne is an engaging study in gambling addiction set in the intoxicating world of the casinos of Macau. Forced to leave his native land due to financial misdealings, "Lord" Doyle is an Englishman drawn to the 24/7 gambler's den of Macau. Doyle is not a lord, or a noble, but is able to reinvent himself in his new world, a world based entirely on the wins and losses of baccarat. When he wins
Ronald Koltnow
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decadence is word bandied about all of the time, and usually in the wrong context. Decadence is a certain fin-de-siecle world-weariness. It is about the decay of life not the joy of it. The literature of the last decade of the 19th Century is the high-point of decadent writing. For reasons unknown, there is more decadent writing at the beginning of the 21st century than at the end of the 20th. High among contemporary practitioners is Lawrence Osborne. His literary essay THE POISONED EMBRACE, pub ...more
Shelly Donaghey
Mar 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, travel
THE BALLAD OF A SMALL PLAYER is an unusual ghost story that isn’t unless you believe in luck. This story follows “Lord Doyle” as he works his way through both the casinos of Macau and a small fortune that, in his past life as a British lawyer, he stole from an old woman.
Neon and glitter beckon all to the gaming tables and he is drawn with an addiction to play although he is fatalistic enough to know he will only lose it all eventually.
And when he does he is rescued by that old stand-by, the w
I just couldn't get into this book and by the abundance of 3 to 5 star reviews, perhaps the problem is mine.

I would be reading and suddenly realize I was just reading words while my attention was somewhere else. This doesn't happen to me often. I've been reading for over five decades. I know how to read, and I've read some very dense, obtuse books, but when my attention is all over the place...

No fault to the writer, though. This book is impeccably well-written. The attention to detail in the ga
May 02, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Electrifying insight into the mindset of addiction, but the wheel of fortune went around one too many times: while it was mostly entertaining, this would have been a stronger book with less plot-point reversals of fortune, and more exploration of the narrator’s desire to drive himself to extinction.

Doyle himself was an explosive, well-written character, and his thoughts, strung out at many times in metaphor fit to a tee. It is hard, however, to carry a novel solely on one character when his pri
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I received The Ballad of a Small Player as part of a Goodreads giveaway.

"Lord Doyle," a lawyer accused of stealing his client's money, goes on the run from his native Britain and disappears into the seedy underworld of Macau's casino culture.

I can't lie, I found it really hard to get into this book. I don't mind books that have unlikable characters or disturbing elements; I'm just happy the author can make me feel something. Here--I don't know, I just didn't feel anything but apathy. The charact
Lord Doyle is a lawyer who has left England after stealing money from an elderly woman. He now resides in Macau, visiting casinos and gambling the money away. It's clear that he is a bit of gambling addict, even if he's in it just to feel the rush of losing it all. He meets a Chinese woman, Dao-Ming, and they instantly form a connection. Will Dao-Ming be the answers to Lord Doyle's problems?

First off, thank you for the free goodreads giveaway. As always, I am very much appreciative of it.
I tho
Apr 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A good page-turner, about a gambler in Macau. Not my usual type of read, but it was pretty easy to get into, and the story was quite involving as he alternately wins and loses at the baccarat table. There is an apt comparison to Graham Greene on the cover, especially as it concerns an Englishman getting into a sticky situation abroad. With a somewhat spooky ending, this is an unusual and pleasing novel.
Mary Shanley
Apr 20, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The setting is the exotic Macau, where the author lives/drifts in the sometimes seedy sometimes grand underworld life of a compulsive gambler. An interesting window into the psyche of a man with everything and nothing to lose.

Finished, and the ending was just so beautifully thoughtful :')
"We said nothing, and indeed, looked at from the point of view of eternity, there was nothing to say anyway"
Apr 12, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the book, but probably would have liked it more if I knew the rules to baccarat.
Jan 26, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Eh. The writing was beautiful but the story left me cold. Too otherworldly for my taste.
May 02, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Steeped in atmosphere and lacking in depth.

***Spoiler Alert***

It serves as a masculine escape novel more than anything. Parts of the book felt like Asian episodes of No Reservations minus the witty and insightful ruminations of Anthony Bourdain. I've never read any other Lawrence Osborne books so I can't connect this to his other works but I will say I found a lot lacking in terms of character and purpose. Doyle is not an interesting character. He's a cold-hearted, entitled English prick that ge
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Lawrence Osborne is a British novelist currently residing in New York City.

Osborne was educated at Cambridge and Harvard, and has since led a nomadic life, residing for years in France, Italy, Morocco, the United States, Mexico, Thailand and Istanbul.

He is the author of the novel Ania Malina, a book about Paris, Paris Dreambook, the essay collection The Poisoned Embrace, a controversial book about

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