Review – Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

 

This is quite an unusal book, hard to categorise, given that it covers everything from schoolboy fantasies to complex scientific theories.  However, somehow this eclectic mix works and what emerges is a masterly tale of life, love, past versus present – a veritable saga.

As the title states, Daniel “Skippy” Juster does indeed die and the prologue details his untimely demise.  What follows is a tale of epic proportions divided into three separate books, Hopeland, Heartland and Ghostland.  Most of the novel is set in and around Seabrook College, a prestigious Dublin school run by the Paraclete order who are keen to maintain the school’s excellent reputation.  Greg Costigan, the first acting lay principal, is keen to move the school into the 21st century and one senses the tension between the old and new orders.

Paul Murray is adept at recreating the turmoil of adolescence with all its jumble of comic and tragic moments.  There is a hilarious description of the school disco complete with sexual tension and heightened emotions. 

“Fascinating,” Ruprecht muses to Skippy.  ” The whole thing seems to work on a similar principle to a supercollider.  You know, two streams of opposingly charged particles accelerated till they’re just under the speed of light, and then crashed into each other?  Only here alcohol, accentuated secondary sexual characteristics and primitive “rock and roll” beats take the place of velocity.”

Skippy is lovesick over Lori who attends the neighbouring girls’ school but he has a romantic rival in the shape of fellow pupil Carl who turns out to be a drug dealer and part-time psycho.  Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight boffin, devotes every waking moment to investigation of the M Theory, intent on proving the existence of eleven dimensions.  For me there were echoes of The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas but I found the “science bit” a lot more accessible even for a philistine like me.

One would hope that a solid teaching staff would guide the boys through these vulnerable times but sadly there is little in the way of role models for them. Howard (the Coward), the History teacher, is more interested in romancing the new  Geography teacher than in pastoral care. Father Green takes sadistic pleasure in reducing his pupils to tears,

“Liar” he roars.  The last of his earlier jollity and good humour has fallen away now, and they realise that it was phony all along, or rather a darker manifestation of his ordinary rage, waiting for the inevitable moment.

“Do you know what happens to sinful boys, Mr Juster?” Father Greensweeps his blazing eyes about the room. “All of you, are you aware of the fate that befalls impure hearts? Of hell, the endless torments of hell that await the lustful?”

Skippy Dies is a very accessible yet expansive read and one of the more satisfying novels I have read in recent times.  It’s a very honest book with equal helpings of humour and pathos and thus true to life.

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5 Comments

  1. Stujallen says:

    know people love this book and its humour ,and some where disappointed it missed the booker shortlist ,I hope to read it at some point in the future ,all the best stu

  2. admin says:

    I think it deserved to be on the short list, more so than The Long Song but that’s my personal opinion!

  3. I agree with you. This book deserved to be on the list more than The Long Song. I’m pleased to see that you enjoyed it – I was just amazed at how quickly I finished this chunkster – I was so absorbed by it that I didn’t notice its length,

  4. Jessica says:

    I have this one on my TBR list ever since reading other reviews of it. I love the sound of the setting

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Jessica. It’s a refreshingly original book, hope you enjoy. Yes Jackie, it didn’t seem long at all, I was sad to see it end. :(

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