Skippy Diesby Paul Murray
Paul Murray's Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel 'Skippy' Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for… See more details below
Paul Murray's Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of 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. . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between. 'That rare thing, a comic epic. . . Murray is a brilliant comic writer, but also humane and touching, and he captures the misery and elation, joy and anxiety of teenage life' David Nicholls, Guardian 'Novels rarely come as funny and as moving as this utterly brilliant exploration of teenhood and the anticlimax of becoming an adult . . . one of the finest comic novels written anywhere' Eileen Battersby, Irish Times 'I loved Skippy Dies . . . three novels fused into one ignited tragicomic tour de force' Ali Smith, Times Literary Supplement Books of the Year 'An unforgettably exuberant saga set in an Irish boys' school. The insulting repartee is Shakespearean, the minor characters hilarious, and Murray captures the fleeting joys and lasting sorrows of adolescence perfectly' Emma Donoghue, Daily Telegraph 'A triumph . . . brimful of wit and narrative energy' Sunday Times 'The sprawling brilliance of Paul Murray's darkly comic second novel works on many different levels . . . When you finish the last page, you may be tempted to start all over again' Metro Paul Murray is the author of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2005, and Skippy Dies, longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2010.
If Harry Potter lived in an alternate Ireland, had no real magical powers but talked a good game, and fell all over himself every time he saw a girl, he might well belong in this splendid, sardonic magnum opus.
It seems safe to guess that Dublin resident Murray (An Evening of Long Goodbyes, 2004) knows the world of boarding schools, of drab dorms, fetid hallways and teenaged lads with their layers on layers of desperation. It seems even safer to guess, though, that unlike Seabrook College for boys, his Ruprecht Van Doren has no exact counterpart in real life. While the others lust after the girls in the prep school next door, Ruprecht—who "arrived at Seabrook in January, like a belated and non-returnable Christmas gift, after both his parents were lost on a kayaking expedition up the Amazon"—is exercising his weird brilliance by opening portals into parallel universes and confounding post-Newtonian physics. All the same, he's a fairly normal kid compared to some of the others, devout in his studies, hand up in class, quick to volunteer for extracurricular activities. Out in the hall, after all, there are thugs and drugs, kids steeped in Vietnam films and antinomianism, other kids lost in their own dismal worlds. The grown-ups aren't too much different; one teacher who is only ten years out of Seabrook himself has visions of the place in flames, while another seeks to find his way across the generation gap to find out just what junior is thinking. Throughout lurk the ghosts of the dead of World War I and the tutelary spirit of Robert Graves, odd sightings of whose memoir Goodbye to All That dot Murray's narrative. Oh, and then there's a fatal doughnut-eating contest as well, whence the title. Murray wanders confidently through the torments of the adolescent imagination, and he delivers a rollicking tale worthy of a Stephen Dedalus—but a lot more comprehensible.
Long and impossibly involved, but also beautifully written, with much truth and not a wasted word. A superb imagining of a strange world—that of pimply-faced kids, that is. Alternate universes, too.
The Washington Post
The New York Times
“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
“Dazzling . . . If killing your protagonist with more than 600 pages to go sounds audacious, it's nothing compared with the literary feats Murray pulls off in this hilarious, moving and wise book . . . It's the Moby Dick of Irish prep schools . . . Murray is an expansive writer, bouncing around in time, tense and point of view. He's unafraid to tempt sentimentality, to write directly at his deep themes, to employ shameless cliffhangers. And he's talented enough to get away with most of it . . . The mixture of tones is the book's true triumph, oscillating the banal with the sublime, the silly with the terrifying, the sweet with the tragic. In short, it's like childhood. In shorter, like life . . . Murray makes the right choices, refusing to spare kid and kidult alike the gorgeous harshness of the world, filled as it is with ‘a sadness everyone can recognize, a sadness that is binding and homelike.” Jess Walter, Washington Post Book World
“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 magazine
“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
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Read an Excerpt
In winter months, from his seat in the middle desk of the middle row, Howard used to look out the window of the History Room and watch the whole school go up in flames. The rugby pitches, the basketball court, the car park and the trees beyond – for one beautiful instant everything would be engulfed; and though the spell was quickly broken – the light deepening and reddening and flattening out, leaving the school and its environs intact – you would know at least that the day was almost over.
Today he stands at the head of the class: the wrong angle and the wrong time of year to view the sunset. He knows, however, that fifteen minutes remain on the clock, and so, pinching his nose, sighing imperceptibly, he tries again. ‘Come on, now. The main protagonists. Just the main ones. Anybody?’
The torpid silence remains undisturbed. The radiators are blazing, though it is not particularly cold outside: the heating system is elderly and erratic, like most things at this end of the school, and over the course of the day the heat builds to a swampy, malarial fug. Howard complains, of course, like the other teachers, but he is secretly not ungrateful; combined with the powerful soporific effects of history itself, it means the disorder levels of his later classes rarely extend beyond a low drone of chatter and the occasional paper aeroplane.
‘Anyone?’ he repeats, looking over the class, deliberately ignoring Ruprecht Van Doren’s upstretched hand, beneath which the rest of Ruprecht strains breathlessly. The rest of the boys blink back at Howard as if to reproach him for disturbing their peace. In Howard’s old seat, Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster stares catatonically into space, for all the world as if he’s been drugged; in the back-row suntrap, Henry Lafayette has made a little nest of his arms in which to lay his head. Even the clock sounds like it’s half asleep.
‘We’ve been talking about this for the last two days. Are you telling me no one can name a single one of the countries involved? Come on, you’re not getting out of here till you’ve shown me that you know this.’
‘Uruguay?’ Bob Shambles incants vaguely, as if summoning the answer from magical vapours.
‘No,’ Howard says, glancing down at the book spread open on his lectern just to make sure. ‘Known at the time as “the war to end all wars”,’ the caption reads, below a picture of a vast, water-logged moonscape from which all signs of life, natural or man-made, have been comprehensively removed.
‘The Jews?’ Ultan O’Dowd says.
‘The Jews are not a country. Mario?’
‘What?’ Mario Bianchi’s head snaps up from whatever he is attending to, probably his phone, under the desk. ‘Oh, it was … it was – ow, stop – sir, Dennis is feeling my leg! Stop feeling me, feeler!’
‘Stop feeling his leg, Dennis.’
‘I wasn’t, sir!’ Dennis Hoey, all wounded innocence.
On the blackboard, ‘MAIN’ – Militarism, Alliances, Industrialization, Nationalism – copied out of the textbook at the start of class, is slowly bleached out by the lowering sun. ‘Yes, Mario?’
‘Uh …’ Mario prevaricates. ‘Well, Italy …’
‘Italy was in charge of the catering,’ Niall Henaghan suggests.
‘Hey,’ Mario warns.
‘Sir, Mario calls his wang Il Duce,’ says Dennis.
‘But he does – you do, I’ve heard you. “Time to rise, Duce,” you say. “Your people await you, Duce.”’
‘At least I have a wang, and am not a boy with … Instead of a wang, he has just a blank piece of …’
‘I feel we’re straying off the point here,’ Howard intervenes. ‘Come on, guys. The protagonists of the First World War. I’ll give you a clue. Germany. Germany was involved. Who were Germany’s allies – yes, Henry?’ as Henry Lafayette, whatever he is dreaming of, emits a loud snort. Hearing his name, he raises his head and gazes at Howard with dizzy, bewildered eyes.
‘Elves?’ he ventures.
The classroom explodes into hysterics.
‘Well, what was the question?’ Henry asks, somewhat woundedly.
Howard is on the brink of accepting defeat and beginning the class all over again. A glance at the clock, however, absolves him from any further effort today, so instead he directs them back to the textbook, and has Geoff Sproke read out the poem reproduced there.
‘“In Flanders Fields”,’ Geoff obliges. ‘By Lieutenant John McCrae.’
‘John McGay,’ glosses John Reidy.
‘“In Flanders fields,”’ Geoff reads, ‘“the poppies blow”:
‘Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived –’
At this point the bell rings. In a single motion the daydreaming and somnolent snap awake, grab their bags, stow their books and move as one for the door. ‘For tomorrow, read the end of the chapter,’ Howard calls over the melee. ‘And while you’re at it, read the stuff you were supposed to read for today.’ But the class has already fizzed away, and Howard is left as he always is, wondering if anyone has been listening to a single thing he’s said; he can practically see his words crumpled up on the floor. He packs away his own book, wipes clean the board and sets off to fight his way through the home-time throng to the staff room.
In Our Lady’s Hall, hormonal surges have made giants and midgets of the crowd. The tang of adolescence, impervious to deodorant or opened windows, hangs heavy, and the air tintinnabulates with bleeps, chimes and trebly shards of music as two hundred mobile phones, banned during the school day, are switched back on with the urgency of divers reconnecting to their oxygen supply. From her alcove a safe elevation above it, the plaster Madonna with the starred halo and the peaches-and-cream complexion pouts coquettishly at the rampaging maleness below.
‘Hey, Flubber!’ Dennis Hoey scampers across Howard’s path to waylay William ‘Flubber’ Cooke. ‘Hey, I just wanted to ask you a question?’
‘What?’ Flubber immediately suspicious.
‘Uh, I was just wondering – are you a bummer tied to a tree?’
Brows creasing, Flubber – fourteen stone and on his third trip through second year – turns this over.
‘It’s not a trick or anything,’ promises Dennis. ‘I just wanted to know, you know, if you’re a bummer tied to a tree.’
‘No,’ Flubber resolves, at which Dennis takes flight, declaring exuberantly, ‘Bummer on the loose! Bummer on the loose!’ Flubber lets out a roar and prepares to give chase, then stops abruptly and ducks off in the other direction as the crowd parts and a tall, cadaverous figure comes striding through.
Father Jerome Green: teacher of French, coordinator of Seabrook’s charitable works, and by some stretch the school’s most terrifying personage. Wherever he goes it is with two or three bodies’ worth of empty space around him, as if he’s accompanied by an invisible retinue of pitchfork-wielding goblins, ready to jab at anyone who happens to be harbouring an impure thought. As he passes, Howard musters a weak smile; the priest glares back at him the same way he does at everyone, with a kind of ready, impersonal disapproval, so adept at looking into man’s soul and seeing sin, desire, ferment that he does it now like ticking a box.
Sometimes Howard feels dispiritedly as if not one thing has changed here in the ten years since he graduated. The priests in particular bring this out in him. The hale ones are still hale, the doddery ones still dodder; Father Green still collects canned food for Africa and terrorizes the boys, Father Laughton still gets teary-eyed when he presents the works of Bach to his unheeding classes, Father Foley still gives ‘guidance’ to troubled youngsters, invariably in the form of an admonition to play more rugby. On bad days Howard sees their endurance as a kind of personal rebuke – as if that almost-decade of life between matriculation and his ignominious return here had, because of his own ineptitude, been rolled back, struck from the record, deemed merely so much fudge.
Of course this is pure paranoia. The priests are not immortal. The Holy Paraclete Fathers are experiencing the same problem as every other Catholic order: they are dying out. Few of the priests in Seabrook are under sixty, and the newest recruit to the pastoral programme – one of an ever-dwindling number – is a young seminarian from somewhere outside Kinshasa; when the school principal, Father Desmond Furlong, fell ill at the beginning of September, it was a layman – economics teacher Gregory L. Costigan – who took the reins, for the first time in Seabrook’s history.
Leaving behind the wood-panelled halls of the Old Building, Howard passes up the Annexe, climbs the stairs, and opens, with the usual frisson of weirdness, the door marked ‘Staff-room’. Inside, a half-dozen of his colleagues are kvetching, marking homework or changing their nicotine patches. Without addressing anyone or otherwise signalling his presence, Howard goes to his locker and throws a couple of books and a pile of copies into his briefcase; then, moving crab-like to avoid eye contact, he steals out of the room again. He clatters back down the stairs and the now-deserted corridor, eyes fixed deter-minedly on the exit – when he is arrested by the sound of a young female voice.
It appears that, although the bell for the end of the school day rang a good five minutes ago, class in the Geography Room is still in full swing. Crouching slightly, Howard peers through the narrow window set in the door. The boys inside show no sign of impatience; in fact, by their expressions, they are quite oblivious to the passage of time.
The reason for this stands at the head of the class. Her name is Miss McIntyre; she is a substitute. Howard has caught glimpses of her in the staff room and on the corridor, but he hasn’t yet managed to speak to her. In the cavernous depths of the Geography Room, she draws the eye like a flame. Her blonde hair has that cascading quality you normally see only in TV ads for shampoo, complemented by a sophisticated magnolia two-piece more suited to a boardroom than a transition-year class; her voice, while soft and melodious, has at the same time an ungainsayable quality, an undertone of command. In the crook of her arm she cradles a globe, which while she speaks she caresses absently as if it were a fat, spoiled housecat; it almost seems to purr as it revolves langorously under her fingertips.
‘… just beneath the surface of the Earth,’ she is saying, ‘temperatures so high that the rock itself is molten – can anyone tell me what it’s called, this molten rock?’
‘Magma,’ croak several boys at once.
‘And what do you call it, when it bursts up onto the Earth’s surface from a volcano?’
‘Lava,’ they respond tremulously.
‘Excellent! And millions of years ago, there was an enormous amount of volcanic activity, with magma boiling up over the entire surface of the Earth non-stop. The landscape around us today –’ she runs a lacquered fingernail down a swelling ridge of mountain ‘– is mostly the legacy of this era, when the whole planet was experiencing dramatic physical changes. I suppose you could call it Earth’s teenage years!’
The class blushes to its collective roots and stares down at its textbook. She laughs again, and spins the globe, snapping it under her fingertips like a musician plucking the strings of a double bass, then catches sight of her watch. ‘Oh my gosh! Oh, you poor things, I should have let you out ten minutes ago! Why didn’t someone say something?’
The class mumbles inaudibly, still looking at the book.
‘Well, all right …’ She turns to write their homework on the blackboard, reaching up so that her skirt rises to expose the back of her knees; moments later the door opens, and the boys troop reluctantly out. Howard, affecting to study the photographs on the noticeboard of the Hillwalking Club’s recent outing to Djouce Mountain, watches from the corner of his eye until the flow of grey jumpers has ceased. When she fails to appear, he goes back to investi–
‘Oh my God, I’m so sorry.’ He hunkers down beside her and helps her re-amass the pages that have fluttered all over the gritty corridor floor. ‘I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you. I was just rushing back to a … a meeting …’
‘That’s all right,’ she says, ‘thanks,’ as he places a sheaf of Ordnance Survey maps on top of the stack she’s gathered back in her arms. ‘Thank you,’ she repeats, looking directly into his eyes, and continuing to look into them as they rise in unison to their feet, so that Howard, finding himself unable to look away, feels a brief moment of panic, as if they have somehow become locked together, like those apocryphal stories you hear about the kids who get their braces stuck together while kissing and have to get the fire brigade to cut them out.
‘Sorry,’ he says again, reflexively.
‘Stop apologizing,’ she laughs.
He introduces himself. ‘I’m Howard Fallon. I teach History. You’re standing in for Finian Ó Dálaigh?’
‘That’s right,’ she says. ‘Apparently he’s going to be out till Christmas, whatever happened to him.’
‘Gallstones,’ Howard says.
‘Oh,’ she says.
Howard wishes he could unsay gallstones. ‘So,’ he rebegins effortfully, ‘I’m actually on my way home. Can I give you a lift?’
She cocks her head. ‘Didn’t you have a meeting?’
‘Yes,’ he remembers. ‘But it isn’t really that important.’
‘I have my own car, thanks all the same,’ she says. ‘But I suppose you could carry my books, if you like.’
‘Okay,’ Howard says. Possibly the offer is ironic, but before she can retract it he removes the stack of binders and textbooks from her hands and, ignoring the homicidal looks from a small clump of her pupils still mooning about the corridor, walks alongside her towards the exit.
‘So, how are you finding it?’ he asks, attempting to haul the conversation to a more equilibrious state. ‘Have you taught much before, or is this your first time?’
‘Oh –’ she blows upwards at a wayward strand of golden hair ‘– I’m not a teacher by profession. I’m just doing this as a favour for Greg, really. Mr Costigan, I mean. God, I’d forgotten about this Mister, Miss stuff. It’s so funny. Miss McIntyre.’
‘Staff are allowed to use first names, you know.’
‘Mmm … Actually I’m quite enjoying being Miss McIntyre. Anyhow, Greg and I were talking one day and he was saying they were having problems finding a good substitute, and it so happens that once upon a time I had fantasies of being a teacher, and I was between contracts, so I thought why not?’
‘What’s your field normally?’ He holds open the main door for her and they step out into the autumn air, which has grown cold and crisp.
Howard receives this information with a studied neutrality, then says casually, ‘I used to work in that area myself, actually. Spent about two years in the City. Futures, primarily.’
Excerpted from Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. Copyright © 2010 by Paul Murray. Published in 2010 by Faber And Faber, Inc. All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Meet the Author
Paul Murray is the author of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2003, and Skippy Dies, which was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award in 2010 and (in the United States) the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Mark and the Void is his third novel. He lives in Dublin.
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The closest familiar story I can think of to compare this to would be Dead Poet's Society; but in my opinion Skippy Dies is even better. Masterful craftsmanship, very creative and these characters really live as they change with the events taking place around them. This is the kind of book you'll want to read again and perhaps even study from different perspectives. This book will make you think in more than one direction, on more than one level and somewhere among the characters you will see parts of yourself and people who were once a big part of your life. A great read.
Rare is the book that speaks to your soul, reinforces interpretations of life events, justifies personal frustrations and entertains while simultaneously proving sensitive but brutally honest. Paul Murray's Skippy Dies does just that. Everyone (over 16) should read this novel. I read 40-50 books a year, I was an English major (so I read a lot then, too) and I honestly believe Skippy Dies is one of the top three most moving and insightful books I've ever read. No other book, fiction or nonfiction, ever put me in a bad mood the next day, as Skippy Dies did when certain plot events occurred. That's how invested I became in this title and its characters. I don't know that there's any higher compliment for a book.
Paul Murray must have labored hard to write a 661 page novel. The story is intricate, colorful characters have been created, and a variety of things happen to them. In the beginning, the reader is filled with optimism that the story will turn out to be a good one- after all, the author has filled up 661 pages! But it is not to be, as, in my opinion, the story takes turns that are simply not credible, written more for the shock value than any attempt to be real. The twists in the tale end up even more bizarrely, and, sad to say, knowing from the beginning that Skippy Dies, there is not much reason to keep reading. I give it four stars, though, because it is a work that includes some really good scenes, just not the sum of the parts.
Despite the sad inevitability the title suggests, and delivers on even in the Prologue, this is a entertaining, if at times darkly so, novel. Numerous plot lines, both major and minor, intertwine seamlessly; the most amusing, because of the accuracy with which the author captures teenage boy relationships, dialogue, and humor, is that of Skippy and his friends. The excitement and confusion of a first crush is evident as well in Skippy's pursuit of Lori, and the melancholy of (teacher) Howard's middle-age crisis hits close to home for those of us at a more...mature stage in our lives. The characters are fully developed and, though I (thankfully) can't claim a boarding school background, the nature of such an experience, for both students and adults alike, seemed an accurate portrayal. Thoroughly enjoyable!
I received this book as a gift and, honestly, was ambivalent about reading it based on the plot summary. Glad I went for it because I absolutely loved it. I was hooked as the story expertly drew me in as it built up to the crossroads in each main character's life. Skippy is central to the story, but there is much more. While many of the most poignant scenes led me to reflect on my own life, just as many made me laugh out loud. "Skippy Dies" is high on my list of books that I've read over the past couple years.
I did not enjoy this book at all. I'm 21 years old so the concept of drugs and sex doesn't offend me at all..but this book just couldn't even keep my attention. I was very disappointed.