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An extraordinary book: brilliant, hilarious, and very moving.

  • Sep 20, 2010

I'm the product of an Irish Catholic boarding school for boys. In September 1968, at the tender age of 11, I left the warm (over-)protective bosom of home and family and became one of the 80 or so boys in the first year class at a Franciscan boarding school, about 25 miles north of Dublin, and 160 miles from home. The experience, particularly the first year, was incredibly brutal. But it was also entirely necessary, and completely transformative. I can trace back almost all of what I consider to be my defining character traits to that first year at boarding school

So I approached Skippy Dies with reservations, and a certain amount of trepidation. The defining characteristic of life in a boys' boarding school is tedium - would Paul Murray be able to capture the tedium accurately and still write an interesting book? Would reading it stir up a bunch of memories best left undisturbed? And could the book possibly live up to the considerable hype that it has generated?

It turned out to be pretty amazing. Paul Murray does indeed get boarding school life down right - he completely nails it. His more significant accomplishment is to have written a book whose appeal transcends the specificity of its setting. Skippy Dies is a sprawling, ambitious doorstopper of a book, with an extensive cast of characters (jocks, nerds, priests, lay teachers, parents, drug dealers, psychopaths), not unlike a Dickens story. Fortunately, Murray has the skill to bring these assorted character to life and to tell a story that grabs and keeps the reader's interest.

The main focus of the book is to present the events that led up to the death of 14 year old Skippy and to explore its subsequent effect on the school community. Along the way, Murray considers a huge variety of disparate themes, ranging from string theory to ancient Irish burial mounds to trench warfare in World War I. Not to mention the pervasive adolescent obsession with sex. At times it seems as if these are mere digressions in a book that's already quite hefty, but the author knows what he's about, and pulls the various threads of his tapestry together to a powerful and satisfying conclusion. With so many balls in the air, you keep expecting him to crash and burn, but he doesn't -- the writing is superb throughout, the story never flags, you don't want it to stop and are a little bit sad when it does.

What do we ask of a good novel? A question with as many answers as readers.  I take a slightly old-fashioned view. If an author can create a vividly imagined world, make me care about his characters, and tell a good story that moves me, then I'm a happy camper. Paul Murray does all of these things in this terrific book, and does them so brilliantly that the story transcends the specificity of its particular milieu. Some reviewers have suggested that the book is likely to appeal only to male readers - I couldn't disagree more.

This is a terrific book. The Man Booker judges should hang their heads in shame for their failure to include it on this year's shortlist. I give it my strongest recommendation.

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December 17, 2010
I agree with you on the aspects of a good novel. I'm glad that this book didn't bring up any unpleasant memories but, allowed you to give us a real history in which to compare the book. Great review- you might like @RebeccaSchinsky's review of Skippy Dies!
More Skippy Dies: A Novel reviews
review by . July 30, 2010
Neither Hogwarts nor "Catcher in the Rye," this captures the "de-dreamification" of being a boy of fourteen and a teacher at twenty-eight. Murray sets this in a Catholic day & boarding school in Dublin, where he lives. The novel yesterday's been placed on the Booker Prize list, so it'll surely gain attention. It's long-- 660 pages to be divided into three volumes for its official release.       These handsomely watercolored covers add …
review by . December 10, 2010
   Imagine if the Harry Potter books were written for adults, set at an all-boys boarding school in Dublin, and had dirtier jokes and a more serious theme, and you’ll have the phenomenal Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. The titular event takes place in the book’s opening pages when fourteen-year-old Daniel “Skippy” Juster, one of Seabrook College’s punier students, dies on the floor of the local doughnut shop just moments after writing his final message on the …
review by . August 18, 2010
About a hundred pages into Skippy Dies, I put it down for the evening and, as I walked away from it, realized I missed it already. I'd grown fond of the book. Surely that's an odd emotion to feel for a comic novel, especially a good one as this one is. Comic novels may be funny, but above all, the best ones (Gulliver's Travels, for instance, or Ulysses) are savage: they take no hostages as they narrate the lives and antics of the characters contained inside them. And that's definitely true of Skippy. …
review by . March 04, 2011
Skippy Dies broke a lot of my rules for literature and still allowed me to love it. I can't stand violence to children in what is, essentially, an entertainment. Really graphic, unhealthy sexual activity is another one that bothers me. Drug abuse is too hard for me to relate to and comes across as an author struggling for some sort of street cred. I'm really square and don't like being manipulated. And I can just picture the editor who leans across the desk to whisper to an aspiring …
review by . August 07, 2010
I had some trouble deciding on the number of stars for this review. Murray is a gifted writer, a wordsmith who can bring characters to life in a few pages, make you care about them as if they were real people, describing their physical characteristics, their character faults, and their secret fears in a way that few writers can. He gets the modern teen-aged boy down with great accuracy, their false bravado, their vicious competition, and their reluctance to let adults know anything about them. He …
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It’s no spoiler to acknowledge that Skippy, the main character in Murray’s second novel, does indeed die, since the boy is a goner by page 5 of the prologue. Following his character’s untimely demise, Murray takes the reader back in time to learn more about the sweetly engaging Skippy—a 14-year-old student at a historic Catholic boys’ school in Dublin—and his friends Ruprecht, a near genius who is passionately interested in string theory; Mario, a self-styled lothario; and Dennis, the resident cynic. We also meet the girl with whom Skippy is hopelessly in love, Lori, and his bête noire, Carl, a drug-dealing, psychopathic fellow student who is also in love with Lori. The faculty have their innings, too, especially the history teacher Howard (the Coward) Fallon, who has also fallen in love—he with the alluring substitute teacher Miss McIntyre. And then there is the truly dreadful assistant principal, Greg Costigan. In this darkly comic novel of adolescence (in some cases arrested), we also learn about the unexpected consequences of Skippy’s death, something of contemporary Irish life, and a great deal about the intersections of science and metaphysics and the ineluctable interconnectedness of the past and the present. At 672 pages, this is an extremely ambitious and complex novel, filled with parallels, with sometimes recondite references to Irish folklore, with quantum physics, and with much more. Hilarious, haunting, and ...
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ISBN-10: 0865479437
ISBN-13: 978-0865479432
Author: Paul Murray
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Faber & Faber
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