‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ by Lawrence Osborne – Gambling in Macau

‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ by Lawrence Osborne  (2014) – 257 pages


cover210x330Our hero, ‘Lord Doyle’ (he’s not really a lord), in ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ is sitting at a high rollers table in the Greek Mythology casino in Macau, a small peninsula off the Chinese mainland near Hong Kong.  Macau is called the Monte Carlo of the Orient, and its gambling revenue has surpassed that of Las Vegas since 2007.  Most of the gamblers in Macau are Chinese business people, but gamblers from all over the world come there.

Our hero is playing the punto banco version of baccarat which is his game.  He is quite forthright on how he came by his money.  Previously as a lawyer in England he embezzled a large sum of money from a wealthy elderly female client, and then he flew away and escaped to Macau.

Earlier I was quite taken with Lawrence Osborne’s novel ‘The Forgiven’, because of its expert depth in presenting life in a foreign land which I found similar to writers such as Graham Greene and Paul Theroux.  Thus I had high expectations for ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’.

The entire plot of this novel revolves around gambling in the Macau casinos.  If you are not deeply interested in the world of high stakes gambling, you are probably not going to have much interest in the story in this novel.  That was my problem.  I have absolutely no appreciation for the world of gambling.   I figure the odds in gambling are always stacked in favor of the house, and I have never been tempted to gamble.  There is a reason that casino owners from Aristotle Onassis to Donald Trump to Sheldon Adelson are among the richest people in the world.

‘…everyone knows you are not a real player until you secretly prefer losing.’

 Beyond my lack of interest in gambling itself, I wound not want to go to these flashy plastic places like Las Vegas and apparently Macau.  These casino areas always seem like cold and bitter lifeless places.

Macau Casino District

Macau Casino District

My lack of enthusiasm for gambling is not the only reason for my lack of enthusiasm for ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’.  The characters in the novel did not appeal to me.  Most of the novel focuses on the main character Lord Doyle who is absolutely obsessed with gambling.  He meets a call girl Dao-Ming who stupidly, in my opinion, gives him some of her money to gamble.  There is a lot of talk about synchronicity and causality and the Chinese mind and supposedly having control over one’s luck, all of which may just as well have been nonsense gibberish as far as I’m concerned.

So ‘The Ballad of a Small Player’ was a severe disappointment for me.  The next time if I consider reading a novel by Lawrence Osborne, I will make sure it has nothing at all to do with gambling.

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