Monday, November 15, 2010

Skippy Dies: Kids Can Be So Cruel

Life is hard. Life can be absurd. And when you're a teenager, you're not equipped with the same perspective as an adult, and every decision, every crush, every cruel joke seems like the most critically important thing that will ever happen. That notion is the foundation on which Paul Murray builds his profound, often-funny, rather lengthy Booker Prize long-listed novel Skippy Dies.

Murray's trick, though, is keeping his readers interested when he kills his main character in the prologue. What emerges after we learn that Skippy really does die — that the title isn't just a gimmick — is a portrait of Seabrook College, a modern-day boarding school in Dublin, Ireland. The novel begins several weeks before Skippy's death, and follows him and his group of kind of nerdy (his overweight roommate Ruprecht is obsessed with astrophysics; 11-dimensional M-theory, in particular), prank-pulling, drug-doing, girl-obsessed friends through their day-to-day trevails.

The brilliance of this book is that we read with the same sense of immediacy that these kids seem to be living their lives. We're constantly looking for clues that might predict why Skippy will die; like everything seems important at the time, but we have no way of know what actually is. Isn't that the way teenagers are? Like everything that happen, or every decision may forge the path for the rest of you life? Ruprecht, wise beyond his years, explains (in example of some of Murray's sagacious prose):
"...that every path you take, no matter how lofty or effulgent, aches not only with the memory of what you left behind, but with the ghosts of all untaken paths, now never to be taken, running parallel." 
Murray's writing (see below for another fantastic theme-furthering passage) and the huge cast of characters make this book tremendously readable. I especially enjoyed the story of Howard the history teacher, his crush on the substitute geography teacher, and his failing relationship with his American girlfriend, Halley. Murray is very insightful and writes with an amazing sense of affinity for his characters, even the ones who are real jerks. After all, life is hard. But reading this novel sure is lots of fun! Four out five stars (minus one for missing a few chances to edit some sections, which drag a tad). But still very highly recommended.

("And she realizes that love doesn't go in straight lines, it doesn't care about right or wrong or being a good person or even making you happy; and she sees, like in a vision, that life and the future are going to be way more complicated than she ever expected, impossibly, unbearably complicated and difficult. In the same moment she feels herself grow older, like she's finished a video game and moved on invisibly to the next stage; it's a tiredness that takes over her body, a tiredness like nothing before, like she's swallowed a ton of weight...")


  1. I have this one on my nook patiently waiting to be read. I've heard many good things about it.
    Nice review.

  2. Funny, I just started this book last night! I downloaded the sample from Amazon a couple months ago, and am finally getting around to read it. It's so long, that I'll admit it seems daunting!

  3. i hadn't had much (read: any) interest in this book before, but those! if only amazon didn't pull one of those "regional blocks" on me with the ebook. still, this is going at the top of my list of Books to Read When I'm Back in America. (growing daily.)

  4. Thanks for a great review! I will keep this one in mind :-)

  5. Great review! I have passed this book many times in the book shop but never actually picked it up and read the back. It sounds very interesting though, I'll definitely have a closer look next time!

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm glad I read the 19th wife as it was very interesting in parts, but it's not one I'm going to go crazy recommending.

  6. Great review, can't wait to read it. I remember being tormented at high school and having a really hard time of it. It will be great to read a book that covers these issues.

    I know this sounds strange, but I actually enjoy reading books where the ending is at the beginning of the book and then the ret of the story explains how you reached it.

    It really seems to fit well with the idea of "its not the ending its the journey that matters"

  7. This one is on my Christmas wishlist. I really hope I get it!

  8. Ooooh this is definitely one for the wish list. I love the sound of it.

  9. @Suzanne - There are many good things to be said about it! ;)

    @Katie - It is long, yes - but it goes quickly. It's weird - it's one of those books that doesn't "look" long - but it's heavy and the pages are thin, so it's deceptive. Or am I crazy?

    @Ellen - Yeah, Murray is an amazingly talented writer. Those quotes are just the tip of the iceberg - the whole novel is chocked full of "quotables."

    @Willa - Pick it up - it's worth it!

    @Sam - It definitely is interesting - and funny and sad and rather profound!

    @Becky - The thing is, it's more like the middle that's at the beginning. There's quite a bit left in the novel when it "catches up" to the events of the prologue. The last part is just great.

    @reviewsbylola - Good luck!

    @Trisha - It's a good time with a book, for sure!

  10. I've had this one on my list to pick up for quite a while. Lazy, that I am, I keep forgetting to look for it when I'm in the bookshop. I'm going to just have to stop procrastinating, and just go get it. I've been fascinated with the reviews that I've read, and for some reason, the idea of a boarding school in Dublin is enough to pull me in.

    Fabulous review, it's your fault that my book pile continues to grow, just so you know...!

  11. I so enjoy reading your reviews. Thanks for linking to the party...


    We should trade post one day...guest blog on each other's blog. Maybe over the December holidays?

  12. This sounds like a good book, and a little different good review!

  13. I've been wanting to read this for a long long time!

  14. This is my favorite book of 2010. Thanks for sharing it here; I have a review as well.

  15. What a wonderfully well-written review! Having read a number of rave reviews on this title prior, it is already on my wishlist. Reading this review makes me think I should put it higher on my to-buy list!

    Julie @ Knitting and Sundrie

  16. I thought I wanted to read this book and now I know I do!

    Thanks for a wonderful review with some terrific quotes!
    ~ Amy