Book Review – SKIPPY DIES by Paul Murray

Skippy Dies Synopsis:Skippy Dies - Paul Murray

Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.  Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate.  In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention.  But when Skippy falls for Lori, the Frisbee-playing Siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath. 

While his teachers battle over modernisation, and Ruprecht attempts to open a portal into a parallel universe, Skippy, in the name of love, is heading for a showdown – in the form of a fatal doughnut-eating race that only one person will survive. This unlikely tragedy will explode Seabrook’s century-old complacency and bring all kinds of secrets into the light, until teachers and pupils alike discover that the fragile lines dividing past from present, love from betrayal – and even life from death – have become almost impossible to read . . .

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Skippy Dies is a mountain, both in size (661 pages) and in content.

Paul Murray has attempted to explore so many deep concepts in Skippy Dies and I’m just not sure he quite pulls it off. Although undeniably impressive, the goal may perhaps have been a tad lofty?

This novel operates on many levels, many of them in very dark places of the human psyche. Murray puts everything under the microscope —  the themes of ‘coming of age’, differences between men and women, right and wrong (ethics), perception versus reality, love versus dependence….. with an undercurrent of existentialism.

Paul Murray’s character development in Skippy Dies was the standout for me. He devotes much time and care personalising the myriad of characters the reader is introduced to in this novel, from the rabble of angst ridden teenage boys (an ensemble cast of geeks through to the school bullies) and the girls from the school next door, through to the paraclete brothers and college alumni with troubled pasts. Murray also displays great skill at writing dialogue, particularly that of the normally mono-syllabic teenage boy. Murray’s creative use of nicknames and ongoing petty rivalries between the students brought levity to otherwise sombre subject matter.

For example, a discussion about the merits of mermaids (obviously with deeper meaning in the context of the novel):

‘What’s the point of mermaids if you can’t have sex with them?’

‘Well, I suppose the key thing to remember is that mermaids are imaginary,’ Ruprecht notes…..

‘Von Blowj*b, find a dictionary and look up “interesting”.’

‘What I don’t understand,’ Geoff says, ‘is why did the first fish, like the one who started land animals, suddenly decide one day to just leave the sea? Like to leave everything he knew, to go flopping around on a land where no one had even evolved yet for him to talk to?’ He shakes his head. ‘He was a brave fish, definitely, and we owe him a lot, for starting life on land and everything? But I think he must have been very depressed.’

I also really appreciated Murray’s parallels of child and adult behaviour, displaying that quite often adults act more like ‘children’ than children do themselves.

The thing that stopped me being entirely won over by Skippy Dies was the underlying cynicism and futility of life message.

‘Sixteen hours of repeated disappointment have etched themselved into his face, like an acute strain of the grey necrosis of disillusion the others feel creep across them every second of every day, transforming them into adults.’

Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is definitely not a novel to read if you are feeling less than chipper…. While there were moments of hopefulness in this novel, it just wasn’t enough for me. There were far too many instances of ‘right not winning’ for my liking.

However, many people rated this novel their number one read for 2010.  It does have undeniable literary clout and the prose is in itself easy to read.

Note I am generally not a fan of mystical subject matter and my lack of knowledge of Irish folklore may have hampered my understanding of those elements.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4 / 5

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Genre: Drama, Action-Adventure, Romance, Mystery, Literature, Sci-Fi Fantasy (a bit of everything really!)

About the Author, Paul Murray

Paul Murray was born in Ireland in 1975. He studied English literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and his Masters in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. Skippy Dies is Murray’s second novel, his firt An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in 2003 and nominated for the Kerry Irish Fiction Award. Skippy Dies was longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize and the 2010 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Award for comic fiction.

Other Reviews of Skippy Dies : Goodreads ;  ANZ Lit LoversBite the Book