SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray
“The shape and feel of being fourteenâthe 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 skillâthe Frisbee, the yoyo, the Hacky Sack, the Boomerangâin 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?”
Review by Poornima Apte Â (NOV 23, 2010)
The Ireland that is the setting for Paul Murrayâs delightful novel Skippy Dies, is not the one we have heard about recently in the newsâcrippled 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 âpast is considered dead weightâat best something to reel in tourists, at worst an embarrassment, an albatross, a raving, incontinent old relative that refuses to die.â
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 Edâs Doughnuts House, a franchise branch of an international food chain. And it is at Edâs 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 courseâincluding Skippyâs genius roomie, Ruprecht (aka Von BlowJob), Dennis, a horny Italian kid Mario and a whole bunch of other colorful characters. What these kids donât know is the fact of Skippyâs utter desolationâhis mother is dying of cancer and Skippyâs 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 girlsâ school, St. Brigidâs, falls into when she becomes the object of Skippyâs affections.
Skippyâs relationship with Lori is doomed from the start but Murray also shows how the adults at Seabrook systematically ignore all kinds of early warningsâchoosing instead to file Skippy into their own predetermined categories of weirdness.
The book loses some of its punch after Skippy actually diesâagain, about three-fourths of the way in. Murray spends time chronicling its effects on many of the bookâs characters, most of whom crash and burn in predictable ways.
Skippy Dies perfectly captures the teenagersâ voicesâtheir 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 âexpected life to be more of a narrative arc. A direction. A point. A sense that itâs not just a bunch of days piling up on top of each other,â he tells a colleague. In other words, itâs not just the kids who are trying to make sense of the worldâthe grownups arenât 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. Theyâre 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: âYou start secondary school, and suddenly everyoneâs asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they donât 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 icebergâthat your future will not be the rollercoaster ride youâd 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 âlife.ââ
Skippy Dies superbly charts the adolescentsâ 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 ânarrative arc.â
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 39 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Faber & Faber (August 31, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|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