SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray

Book Quote:

“The shape and feel of being fourteen—the taste of apple-flavoured bubblegum in his mouth, the humiliation of a spot on his chin, the unending turmoil of that endless struggle to stay afloat in a roiling sea of emotions, and the thousands of hours spent out on the gravel, determined to master an utterly valueless skill—the Frisbee, the yoyo, the Hacky Sack, the Boomerang—in the unshakeable belief that in this lay his salvation. Half of him battling to become visible, the other half just wanting to disappear. God, how had he ever endured it?”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (NOV 23, 2010)

The Ireland that is the setting for Paul Murray’s delightful novel Skippy Dies, is not the one we have heard about recently in the news—crippled by debt and threatening to bring down the Euro. Instead, the novel is set in the not-so-distant past when the roaring Celtic Tiger was a prominent player on the world economic stage. Skippy Dies is set in an Ireland where the “past is considered dead weight—at best something to reel in tourists, at worst an embarrassment, an albatross, a raving, incontinent old relative that refuses to die.”

It is in this Ireland that the boys of Seabrook College, the primary characters in the novel, come of age. One of their frequent haunts away from school is Ed’s Doughnuts House, a franchise branch of an international food chain. And it is at Ed’s where, in the very first chapter of the book, Skippy dies.

By all indications, Skippy, a strong swimmer and average student showed no predisposition to a sudden and violent death. So what exactly happened that lead him to it? To find out, Murray takes us back to Seabrook and sets the stage. There are the boys of course—including Skippy’s genius roomie, Ruprecht (aka Von BlowJob), Dennis, a horny Italian kid Mario and a whole bunch of other colorful characters. What these kids don’t know is the fact of Skippy’s utter desolation—his mother is dying of cancer and Skippy’s father is thoroughly unequipped to help neither himself nor his son through the trying times that follow. It is this gap that Lorilei, a beauty at the neighboring girls’ school, St. Brigid’s, falls into when she becomes the object of Skippy’s affections.

Skippy’s relationship with Lori is doomed from the start but Murray also shows how the adults at Seabrook systematically ignore all kinds of early warnings—choosing instead to file Skippy into their own predetermined categories of weirdness.

The book loses some of its punch after Skippy actually dies—again, about three-fourths of the way in. Murray spends time chronicling its effects on many of the book’s characters, most of whom crash and burn in predictable ways.

Skippy Dies perfectly captures the teenagers’ voices—their banter is hilarious and pitch-perfect. Murray is simply flawless at capturing every shade of every teen moment. My worry is that he is so superb at this that most readers might assume that this is just another novel for and about teenagers and give it a skip (no pun intended). This would be a big mistake.

For not only is Skippy Dies a brilliant book about growing up, it also shines light superbly on just how long that process takes. One of the principal adults in the book is Howard Fallon, the history teacher, who is finding it hard to make sense of the direction his life has taken. Despite having a long-term steady relationship, he risks it all to have a fling with a substitute teacher. When she in turn leaves, Howard is desperate and without any moorings. He “expected life to be more of a narrative arc. A direction. A point. A sense that it’s not just a bunch of days piling up on top of each other,” he tells a colleague. In other words, it’s not just the kids who are trying to make sense of the world—the grownups aren’t quite done with the process yet.

By the time the book is done, the kids achieve a well-earned if shaky closure to their loss. They’re also slowly growing up trying to fit into a world that has already made them privy to many of its harsh realities.

As one of the kids points out: “You start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg—that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor-tiles, is actually what largely people mean when they speak of ‘life.’”

Skippy Dies superbly charts the adolescents’ slow realization that the world they see is the one they need to make the best of. As they do so, the many funny and delightful incidents that pepper the novel, together make for one awesome “narrative arc.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 39 readers
PUBLISHER: Faber & Faber (August 31, 2010)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Paul Murray
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Other coming of age /loss of innocence novels:

The Vanishing of Katharina Linden by Helen Grant

Beautiful Malice by Rebecca James


November 23, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, Reading Guide, United Kingdom, World Lit

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