REVIEW – The Stars’ Tennis Balls by Stephen Fry

– Published July 2014

by Stephen Fry

Rating: ****

*Probably going to be spoilers!*

The Stars' Tennis Balls

There have a lot of big changes in my life lately with graduating and moving house, among other things. A part of moving house has required so many trips to the local charity shops to find furniture, which in my terms means trying to find many, many bookshelves. This year we have been lucky enough to find a house with enough rooms to each have our own office space and of course I have turned mine into a library of sorts. Hence the bookshelves! In the process of doing so we found an amazing charity shop/warehouse place that do second-hand furniture at crazy cheap prices so much so that we’ve basically kitted out our entire house from there (with the exception of a few Facebook market place items – trust me, it’s amazing what you can find). At this charity shop there are tonnes of book priced at 5 for a £1! FIVE FOR ONE POUND! I wasn’t going to day no…

The Stars’ Tennis Balls was an obvious choice for me being a big fan of Stephen Fry! I’m slowly collecting all his book but I’ve been yet to read one until now! Stephen Fry, what a man!


Ned Maddstone appears to have absolutely everything anyone can ask for. He has the money and all the opportunities he needs to give him the brightest of futures, and he is talented enough the achieve that future. Everything is even more perfect when he meets Portia. Perfect life and perfect girlfriend. Nothing can stop him, nothing can get in his way.

So the story goes…

His friends have their own little secrets, the biggest of all being that they don’t believe themselves to be Ned’s friends and in fact, they don’t believe one bit that Ned is really the nice guy he supposedly pretends to be. Thus the plot begins. Whilst Ned and Portia are spending some “time” in the bedroom together, the friends plant some drugs in Ned’s coat and prepare to tip off the police whilst he’s out. Unbeknown to them that not so long ago a man passed away on Ned’s sailing trip and in his dying breath he passed over a letter. Ned was only told to remember a name and address and knew nothing more. When the police take him in he’s interrogated but not about the drugs.

The following years in Ned’s life prove to be the complete opposite to the perfection he’d previously had. His kidnappers leave him to rot in a mental asylum that seems to live up to stereotypes of brutality and electro-shock therapy. Ned becomes Thomas in a twist that sees him disbelieving his previous life – perhaps the therapy did its proposed job.

But of course we know Thomas is really Ned, and so does his new friend, Babe. Together they become true creative minds and intellectuals and in his dying breath Babe plots Ned’s escape giving him a spoon to get him out. This spoon must be hidden, and where do you hide it when a nurse will give you a full body search. I will leave that one up to your imagination – unlike the book.

Ned’s cringe-worthy escape is the start of his billionaire lifestyle as a big corporate boss on the internet, giving him the perfect platform to enact his sweet revenge on those who caused his original downfall, without getting his hands dirty. One by one you read their fall.


Safe to say, this book was not what I expected at all. Though I’m yet to read other Stephen Fry novels, I have been led to believe that most are witty and light-hearted, just what I expected this to be. I don’t believe the cover gives much away and even now thinking about it, I still don’t think it does (I really don’t understand the cover – unless it’s supposed to be some political/social commentary on politicians being an ass). It wasn’t until I got it home that I found a note glued to the inside cover with a content warning.

So perhaps this isn’t a witty, light-hearted novel…

Nope, no it was not!

Though the language remains cleverly witty, the plot is something much more vile and shrouded with darkness. Ned is an easy-going character who I did surprisingly find myself sympathising with from the start. Yes, he might have everything he wants but he still had a kind-hearted personality. I routed for him and did not like what the other guys did one bit. The style of the book immediately had me believing everything would be ok and Ned would be released from the police station, unharmed, and have some good father-son bonding time. Annnndddd he gets kidnapped. Initial thoughts: WHAT?! but then “oh yeah it’s a thriller”.

Ned’s escape from the asylum was interestingly brutal. I can’t quite put my finger on a correct word for it. On the one hand I really appreciated Fry’s openness in the description of how each stage was completed. It wasn’t like anything I’ve read before. The use of dialogue to blantly let you know what was happening to the spoon was brilliantly executed. On the other hand, I think I got through it all on shear shock. Nicely played Fry, nicely played.

The revenge was extremely satisfying. Ned being the character I routed for since the beginning somehow manages to find himself back in a position that he perhaps could have been in if even without the drastic changes in his life (minus the murdering). He is able to plan out certain strategies, like the games of chess he plays, that set out each of his adversaries’ murder without a single one being touched. Their deaths are seemingly solely of their own doing, whether it’s through suicide or getting in with the wrong crowd because of their already prominent drug addiction. Ned becomes the perfect anti-hero you could easily imagine being in a modern day Netflix show.

The effects of Ned’s kidnapping are indeed heart-breaking. Reading of Portia’s live and the deterioration of his dad is truly sad, casting a shadow of dread across the whole story.

Upon Ned’s escape, he enters a whole different world compared to the one he left. This new world is full of mobile phones, technological advances, social media and skinny jeans. For a reader, having grown up since the late 90s, this was incredibly nostalgic yet thought-provoking. There are most definitely some in the world who will not understand some of the references made yet it is a true cultural commentary as to just how much our society has changed since the early 80s. This sets the story in an almost futuristic sense yet reading it now we know it to be the past. It was definitely an odd sensation of understanding.


If you’re interested in a witty, revengeful novel with a few gruesome bits, I would definitely recommend this read. As per usual, Stephen Fry is an incredible man!

Onto the next book…

– KC


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