Skippy Dies: A Novel Paperback – Aug 30 2011
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Extravagantly entertaining . . . One of the great pleasures of this novel is how confidently [Paul Murray] addresses such disparate topics as quantum physics, video games, early-20th-century mysticism, celebrity infatuation, drug dealing, Irish folklore and pornography . . . Six hundred sixty-one pages may seem like a lot to devote to a bunch of flatulence-obsessed kids, but that daunting length is part and parcel of the cause to which Skippy Dies, in the end, is most devoted. Teenagers, though they may not always act like it, are human beings, and their sadness and loneliness (and their triumphs, no matter how temporary) are as momentous as any adult's And novels about them--if they're as smart and funny and touching as Skippy Dies--can be just as long as they like. (Dan Kois The New York Times Book Review)
Murray's humor and inventiveness never flag. And despite a serious theme--what happens to boys and men when they realize the world isn't the sparkly planetarium they had hoped for--Skippy Dies leaves you feeling hopeful and hungry for life. Just not for doughnuts. (Entertainment Weekly, Grade: A)
He really does die. It's in the opening scene. But as Paul Murray's novel backtracks to explain what brought about his death, Skippy is so desperately, painfully alive that you hope the mere act of reading about him will save him . . . Murray balances . . . forces in finely tuned chords of pathos and comedy, a virtuosic display you'd expect from a writer with the confidence to kill of his title character in the title. (Radhika Jones Time magazine)
[Murray] gets away with almost everything, owing to the strength of his remarkable dialogue, which captures the free-associative, sex-obsessed energy of teen-age conversation in all its coarse, riffing brilliance. (The New Yorker (Briefly Noted))
This epic page-turner sweeps you along with the heedless gusto of youth. (People)
Deeply funny, deeply weird and unlike anything you've ever encountered before. (NPR.org)
The novel is a triumph . . . Brimful of wit, narrative energy and a real poetry and vision. (Adam Lively The Sunday Times)
A real joy. (Marie Claire)
One of the most enjoyable, funny and moving reads of this young new year. (Patrick Ness The Guardian)
An utterly engrossing read. (Elle)
Noisy, hilarious, tragic, and endlessly inventive . . . Murray's writing is just plain brilliant. (Kate Saunders The Times)
A blast of a book. (Kevin Power The Irish Times)
"Darkly funny and wholly enjoyable . . . Murray will never once lose your attention, writing with wit and charm and making this tragicomedy both hilarious and effortlessly moving." (Very Short List)
A total knockout. (The Christian Science Monitor)
A refreshing break from the simple, bloglike prose of more popular novels . . . A most entertaining book from an excellent writer. (Dallas Morning News)
A great, early fall read . . . Bursting with plot and characters. (San Antonio Express-News)
When I tell you there's a scene towards the end of Paul Murray's Skippy Dies, where I was struggling to maintain my composure while reading on the New York subway, I hope you'll understand just how powerful this novel is. And the fantastic thing is: Just a few hundred pages earlier, I was fighting off a major case of the giggles on an airplane because there's another scene in this book that is hysterically funny, that takes its joke and just keeps turning the dial a little bit further until . . . well, until I was about to explode anyway. (Ron Hogan Beatrice.com)
A triumph. (Bookforum online)
This novel is going straight to the top of my best books of 2010 list. (Baby Got Books)
About the Author
Paul Murray was born in 1975. He studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin and creative writing at the University of East Anglia. His first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was short-listed for the Whitbread Prize in 2003 and was nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies, his second novel, was long-listed for the Booker prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.See all Product Description
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Skippy Dies is based primarily in Seabrook College, home to day and boarding pupils alike. It fixes in on both the young teenage students and their teachers alike, and their lives away from school. What really struck me was how today's teenagers have no concept of what having a private life means. Camera phones and social networking sites are the norm and any indiscretions can be made widely known in seconds.
The book deals beautifully with the story behind each of the main characters, exploring their past, their family life, what brought them to the here and now and their current emotional state. When you add the girls school next door into the mix the story really takes off.
The title is self explanatory, but all is not what it seems, so my advice is to let Murray take you on this wonderfully touching journey of discovery.
I don't want to give away too much other than to say all the characters are wonderfully portrayed in such fantastic detail. Murray's style of writing is both hilarious and poignant.
This is not one to miss. I read the full, one book edition. It also comes in a really nice 3-volume box set if you fancy breaking it up.
Now, a book about the death of a young boy sounds like a bummer--and Skippy's death is far from the only tragedy depicted--but as in life, the tragedy is balanced with high comedy. The novel is set at Seabrook College, an upscale private preparatory school in Ireland. This, the institution's 140th year, is a time of transition. The Catholic priests who have been in control for more than a century are beginning to take a back-seat to secular influences. (Yes, contemporary scandals in the Catholic Church are touched upon within the plot, but they are not the focus of the story.)
While Skippy is a pivotal character, the novel is an ensemble piece. We meet Skippy's school pals, the older boys who bully them, the teachers and priests that teach them, the girls from the neighboring school, and a smattering of parents and significant others. There's a plot. Many of them, in fact; it's an expansive novel and much happens along the way. But this story is character-driven, and that's where Murray excels. His characters are delicious! Ruprecht, the idiosyncratic genius; Mario, the teenage lothario; Howard "The Coward" Fallon, a teacher searching for identity; and an acting principal you'll love to hate. Murray perfectly captures the sweet innocence of young boys, right along with their monstrous side. Every word, every action rings true. In Murray's novel, protagonists disappoint. Good things do not always happen to good people. But through it all, there is just so much to laugh about.
I could not be less interested in Irish school boys, but Paul Murray has written a universal tale that simply shines. The writing is effervescent, and it only strengthens as the novel unfolds. It's hard to imagine a novel about death that's more vibrant and full of life. Don't let the length deter you from one of the year's finest reads.
The centerpiece of the story is Skippy, a teenaged boy attending the Catholic school, and I won't be spoiling anything when I mention that Skippy Dies. The bulk of the book describes the events leading up to his death, with a large cast of characters who seem to corner each possible Catholic schoolboy (nerd, ladies' man, rich kid) and faculty (boring old priest, returning alumnus, hot chick, possible molester) stereotype. This is not to say that these characters are not interesting, and, in some cases, provide some much-needed humor in the midst of what is unquestionably a grim tale. The biggest problem with the story is that at times, the plot gets crushed by its own weight. There is a lot going on, and it does not necessarily all tie together in the end.
I finished this book a few days ago and wanted to let it marinate a bit before writing a review, because I could not decide if this was a modern classic and my initial impression of it being a bit over-done was just from reader fatigue. Ultimately, to me the book was between 3 and 4 stars, and fell to 3 stars for the long and rambling sections that I was hopeful would be tied together better. In the end, they were repetitive and just did not maintain my interest. Without question, Murray is an excellent writer and a deep thinker with a lot to say. In this book, there was just a bit too much of all of it.
Still, this is a strange story, starting off with the climax in the first chapter, then playing out the build-up and the long denouement in separate sections. Certainly the plot goes into some strange places, at times making me wonder if he had gone completely off the tracks, on a Joycean meander through Dublin. He eventually pulls together a conventional plot, albeit with some rambles on the dark side. Murray includes literary references, a drug dealer who quotes Yeats, the history teacher's fixation with Robert Graves, but these are occasional, and completely beyond the comprehension or interest of the boys. He tries to draw a parallel between Skippy's infatuation with the frisbee girl and the quest for the white (or black) goddess, but he doesn't quite pull this off.
This is a terribly cynical picture of life at the opening of a new century. I don't deny the cruelty of boys, the omnipresence of profanity and pornography in their lives, and the willingness of some teachers to exploit them, but there is almost no decent person in this whole book, at least one whom the author considers decent. I don't know if the author believes that decency is a concept anyone could aspire to. He certainly includes a number of characters who project the outward signs of goodness, but he exposes their rotten core. There is some small hope for humanity in the final pages, when a few characters begin to see a future, or find courage (even Howard the coward, but the reader hears about this rather than experiencing his momentous moment). The good deeds happen almost as an aside, while the grim business of moving the school forward marches down the center stage. I cannot enthuse about this novel to female readers, since it is very much a male dominated story, nor could I recommend it to my teenagers, for I thought it was too cynical. Nevertheless, Murray has undeniable talent, and a story is not necessarily better for being less cynical. Four stars.
I thought it would be funny. I hoped it would be affecting. But I never suspected it would also be wise and, in its own unpretentious way, profound.
Maybe I'm still just dizzy from its weird and wonderful spell, but this strikes me as not just a great read, but great literature. This tale of an Irish boarding school is funny, devastating and rings absolutely true. Murray has an uncanny ability to recreate not just the language and dialogue of teenagers, but the way they think. Some of the characters seem like stereotypes at first -- the fat genius Ruprecht, the sarcastic cynic Dennis, the beleaguered teacher Howard, and the sensitive, disturbed dreamer Skippy -- but they soon come alive in all of their lovable, infuriating, goofy glory. They turn out to be far deeper and more complicated than we could have guessed.
The entire world of Seabrook, the fictional Dublin boarding school, comes vividly alive. Meanwhile, I was feeling the roiling emotions that come with being 14, emotions that I thought were 40 years in my past.
One of the finest passages comes at the end, when the confused girl Lori suddenly has an insight that comes too late to save Skippy, but just in time to save Ruprecht. It is this: We are so obsessed with wanting to be somewhere else -- or someone else -- that we fail to see the magic and beauty that we already have. It is a testament to Murray's art that this simple truth seems so absolutely crucial.
When I was finished, I immediately went back and re-read the last 20 pages, partly because I wanted to make sure I caught every nuance, and partly because I did not want the experience to end.