Why does Skippy, a fourteen-year-old boy at Dublin's venerable Seabrook College, end up dead on the floor of the local doughnut shop?
Could it have something to do with his friend Ruprecht Van Doren, an overweight genius who is determined to open a portal into a parallel universe using ten-dimensional string theory?
Could it involve Carl, the teenage drug dealer and borderline psychotic who is Skippy's rival in love?
Or could "the Automator"the ruthless, smooth-talking headmaster intent on modernizing the schoolhave something to hide?
Why Skippy dies and what happens next is the subject of this dazzling and uproarious novel, unraveling a mystery that links the boys of Seabrook College to their parents and teachers in ways nobody could have imagined. With a cast of characters that ranges from hip-hop-loving fourteen-year-old Eoin "MC Sexecutioner" Flynn to basketball playing midget Philip Kilfether, packed with questions and answers on everything from Ritalin, to M-theory, to bungee jumping, to the hidden meaning of the poetry of Robert Frost, Skippy Dies is a heartfelt, hilarious portrait of the pain, joy, and occasional beauty of adolescence, and a tragic depiction of a world always happy to sacrifice its weakest members. As the twenty-first century enters its teenage years, this is a breathtaking novel from a young writer who will come to define his generation.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
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.
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.
Table of Contents
Reading Group Guide
As promised, fourteen-year-old Daniel "Skippy" Juster dies in the opening scene of Paul Murray's tragicomic masterwork. But much remains to be seen in the ensuing chapters. Who is responsible for his demise? And why does he die such a weird death, gasping for air on the floor of a doughnut shop without having eaten any doughnuts? And what are we to make of his final message, written on the floor in syrupy raspberry filling: "TELL LORI"?
Set in Dublin at the Seabrook College for boys, Skippy Dies combines the visceral power of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest with the raw anxieties of life in the twenty-first century. The result is a dazzling and uproarious novel in which nearly all the characters are at odds with one another (and with themselves) as they walk the line between fantasy and reality, spectacular deception and jaw-dropping revelation. While a ruthless Acting Principal ("the Automator") tries to dissolve the school's affiliation with the Holy Paraclete Fathers, faculty and students alike revel in unholy obsessions. For the teenage drug dealer Carl, it's porn, laced with his borderline psychotic fantasies. For the pudgy young genius Ruprecht, it's a quest to open a portal to a parallel universe. Unable to get his students to understand the magnitude of the Great War, the history teacher Howard Fallon spends equal time trying to get it on with his sexy colleague Aurelie. For Eoin "MC Sexecutioner" Flynn, life is an endless hip-hop soundtrack. As for Skippy, with a distracted father and a cancer-stricken mother, he simply dreams of a day when no one harasses him anymore. There's not enough Ritalin in the world to bring normalcy to Seabrook, but then again, normalcy is all relative within those historic walls.
Hailed by The New Yorker as an author who "gets away with just about everything," Paul Murray reinvents adolescence, adulthood, and storytelling itself in Skippy Dies. We hope the following questions will help your book club survive the exhilarating ride.
1. What were your initial theories about why Skippy died?
2. Why can't Howard be happy with Halley? Is his obsession with Aurelie any different from
Skippy's obsession with Lori?
3. Who are the heroes and villains in this novel? Is the bad behavior due to bad parenting, high testosterone levels, materialism, lack of belief in a difficult God? Other factors?
4. How does Seabrook compare with your high school? Which characters most closely resemble you and your circle of friends?
5. What do the novel's priests have to say about the nature of the suffering they see at Seabrook? Do they defy or fit the stereotype of prep-school priests?
6. When Carl's parents fight loudly (David versus jealous mother Lucia), what do you think they're teaching him about love? How do they manage to stay so clueless about their son?
7. With his emphasis on marketing, branding, and public relations, does the Automator (Greg Costigan) reflect a typical trend in education today?
8. Would the novel have been as interesting if it had been set at the all-girl's school St. Brigid's? Are teenage girls as destructive as teenage boys?
9. Howard tells the Automator that Skippy earned his nickname because he has buck teeth, which cause him to make a kangaroo-like noise when he speaks. What makes Skippy an easy target? Are those who pick on him (including Father Green, badgering Skippy about obscenity in front of the whole French class) sadistic?
10. Google "M-theory." What do the articles seem to say about the search for order in the universe, even before the Big Bang? Why is it an ideal theory for Ruprecht's obsession, and for this novel?
11. Part I closes with a blend of Professor Tamashi's interview on the eleventh dimension and scenes from Skippy's "seduction" by Lori. What does it take to give and get love in Skippy Dies? What do those scenes say about the reality that love creates? What does the novel say about the reality that drugs create?
12. Lori's father, Gavin Wakeham, is an alumnus of Seabrook, and he is eager to share with Skippy his recollections of the faculty (which included a fondler, alumni who returned to their alma mater to teach when other opportunities didn't work out, and the perennially socially conscious Father Green). What impressions did the school make on Mr. Wakeham? What impressions will it leave on Skippy's class?
13. Discuss Ruprecht's quartet and the musical performance he links to communicating with the dead. Is it a step forward or backward for him, mentally?
14. Which came first: Carl's drug use or his obsession with power and violent sex? When he became haunted by Dead Boy, did you think he was seeing a hallucination or a ghost? Reread his explosive closing scene. Is he a Demon, or the victim of one?
15. After Skippy's funeral, his father tells Howard that Skippy's great-grandfather served in Gallipoli. Does Skippy's generation lack valor?
16. Howard and Father Green are appalled to see the Automator defend Coach Roche. Is Tom worthy of defense?
17. Ultimately, who is to blame for Skippy's death?
18. Discuss part IV, "Afterland." Is Greg's message a victory letter? Did he get everything he wanted?
Guide written by Amy Clements / The Wordshop, Inc.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
Very few authors remember what it is like to be a teenager. I think Paul Murray does. This humorous and biting novel serves as a social commentary on the shortcomings of western education. All the pitfalls of teenage life are present but written in with an honesty that escapes most contemporary writers. I saw someone compare Skippy Dies to Catcher in the Rye, but I feel that comparison falls short. Skippy Dies has many more layers and the characters do not come off as narcissistic as Holden Caufield. They just seem more substantial and real. Maybe this is because I, as a Gen Xer, am generationally closer to Skippy.
First off, this book is way to long, second I found the story to be to jumpy from one character to another, third there was to many sex related jokes for boys of that age. To me the best part was returning it to the Library after struggling to read it.
What can I say? This was hard work, not because the story was poor but because of extra information that just wasn¿t necessary. I skipped pages of science information (amongst others) because I just didn¿t feel it added to the plot. It had needless information that detracted from the story.I enjoyed reading about the boys and the teachers but the plot was lost amongst this ocean of stuff. This book could¿ve been at least half the length and still packed as much into it. I felt the author was trying to showcase writing skills that have ruined a good story. There is a great writer bursting out of this door stop but on this occasion he¿s just become sidetracked. From an editorial point of view it became difficult at times to identify who was the narrator of a chapter ¿ there are a number of characters narrating the story. It might¿ve been better to have chapter headings using just their names if this would help. Overall, the story is good and the characters are great but they are overshadowed by the authors overindulgence for trying to cram too much into the story. If the book had been even just 150 pages shorter it would¿ve got three stars, knock 250 pages off and it would¿ve been 5 stars.
Take one part Our Miss Brooks, add a dash of The History Boys, and mix it all with a dollop of postmodern drollery and you begin to approximate the experience of reading this mixed up story of modern youth in academia. Both less serious than the Enfield Tennis Academy and a lot more fun, most of the time (certainly more fun than Mr. Gradgrind's school in Coketown), I found this an energetic light read that was refreshing, if not quite able to attain the heights that some its hype would suggest. Perhaps I am too old to see all of the important meaning hiding beneath the irony and satire, but so be it. Give me James Hilton or R. F. Delderfield and I'm happy.
KIPPY DIES by Paul MurrayYou wouldn't think a book that gives away the ending with it's title would be so great, but it was. Skippy Dies is an excellent read. Another large tome at 672 pages, but it flies by.Skippy is a young teenager in boarding school in Dublin and this three part book follows the trials and tribulations of him and his friends and the aftermath of Skippy's death. Despite its dark title, there are some very funny moments. Not everything is what it seems and I was riveted to this tragic but humorous book.my rating 5/5
A well-crafted novel set in a BOYS school in Dublin. It's especially enjoyable if you like reading about the antics of teenage BOYS. However, teenage BOYS are too often predictable, and so are these BOYS. l lost interest in the book after about 400 of the ~600 pages, because I had tired of the BOYS' fart jokes and sex jokes and "gay"-used-as-all-purpose-negative-adjective jokes. If you know a teenage BOY, he might like to give the book a try, but what about the rest of us?
This is just not the kind of book I'd normally pick up. For one thing, it's set in a private boys' school and so is primarily concerned with the lives of fourteen-year-old boys. It also has lots of asides about string theory and Irish soldiers in the First World War. I'm still not sure why I decided to read it. And I could not put it down. Skippy is Daniel Justers, a boarder at an elite Catholic school in Dublin. He dies in the opening paragraphs, so the title's not a spoiler. The book then goes back and shows the events building to his death, following various denizens of Seabrook College. Skippy has family problems, difficulties on the swim team and a bully out to get him. He also has a good, if geeky, band of friends and, most importantly, he's fallen in love. his roommate, Ruprecht, is an obese genius with a love of his own; the complicated cosmology posited by a Stanford University professor. Howard is a history teacher worried that this is as far as he'll ever go. He did something years ago that has earned him the nickname of 'Howard the Coward'. Fourteen is a difficult age for boys. Some have almost finished puberty and are six feet tall and hairy, others have only just begun, lagging several feet behind their contemporaries. Their interests diverge just as dramatically with some dreaming of a first kiss and others watching hardcore porn on their laptops and doing whatever drugs they can get their hands on, and then there are always the boys who would prefer to spend their time on role playing games or scientific experiments. What makes this book so hard to put down is the honesty and empathy with which Murray approaches his characters. Even the vilest of boys is a person and the author never lets us forget it. He is excited about the boys' interests and activities and, therefore, so is the reader. This is not a cheerful book, but there is a strong vein of humor running through even the most depressing of chapters. And there is one in the middle of the book, about the undertaking of Ruprecht's big experiment that is worthy of a John Hughes movie. We look at the history of the world in terms of the grand, over-arching themes, but to people living their lives as best they can, things seem awfully chaotic.
This book made the shortlist??? This book was a beating to finish. Not funny at all, and simply stupid.
This book took me a while to get into, but I loved the second half in particular. Many great spots, some long slogs. A very large, ambitious novel. Shows a great understanding (sadly) of the problems children face in the modern world¿how much the adults hurt them and they hurt each other! Plenty of drugs, sex, violence and massive confusion among both the children and the adults. Some parts were very funny, some quite lyrical.
Here is a book that needed a scorecard. It was very difficult even to keep the characters straight, which also made it hard to appreciate the novel. If I'd had a listing of characters to serve as a reference, no doubt the experience would have been enhanced, and my enjoyment level raised hugely! Specific confusions--it didn't sink until maybe 3/4 through the book that Skippy wasn't the fat one! The boys, the teachers--which was which? An outline would have been helpful.As it was, Skippy Dies was a struggle for me. My biggest problem was with the Howard chapters--he was so whiny and boring! Although there were some verbal gems in Murray's prose even in these chapters, had I been editor, there would have been far less from Howard's point of view! Of course, some of the writing was stunning--oh, my, but Murray does know his way around the English language! There are rumors that Skippy Dies may be made into a movie--I'll be there! Without Murray's forays into Irish folklore and many other unrelated subjects, there is a stunning story here. I can't wait to see how the director will portray the Halloween Hop!
Although I slogged through the first half of this book and considered quitting several times, I flew through the second half of Skippy Dies, Paul Murray's second novel. Set in a Dublin Catholic boarding school for boys, we know from the title that Skippy dies. What we learn from the book is just how this death affected his friends, his enemies, and the school community at large. Murray brilliantly captures the inner life of boarding school boys (sex and girls play a large part) and each quirky character came to life for me. As the school's administration tries to get on with life as normal after Skippy's death, the author shows how the event forces the adults in the book to come to terms with long-simmering issues of their own and his classmates to grow up. There is so much going on in this book, I wasn't sure how the author would tie up all the loose ends, but he does so in a stunning and brilliant conclusion. Stick with this one and you won't be sorry.
One of the best novels for adults that I've read in years, and I'm not just saying that because it's about teens!Skippy is a 14 year old kid who's moving through life on painkillers. He's hiding some secrets that are painful and isn't sure how to deal with them. His good friends are a funny lot - Ruprecht, his roommate, is an overweight boy obsessed with science. Mario is a sex fiend who wouldn't know what to do with a real girl if faced with it. And Dennis is so wrapped up in his own sarcasm that it's difficult for him to show true emotion.The book takes place at an Irish Catholic boarding school for boys. Not only do you get to know the boys at the school, but also the teachers, some of whom are suffering from their own existential crises.Wonderfully written with a dark sense of humor, I recommend this book to anyone who loves excellent writing, well-developed characters and angst.
I rarely read chunkster fiction but this one, at 672 pages, was an exception. The book is set at a Dublin boarding school and the title obviously gives away the key point: in the first few pages, Skippy does indeed die, on the floor of the local doughnut shop hangout during a doughnut-eating contest. Most of the book involves events that led up to his death.The most interesting part, I thought, addressed the aftermath, the impact of his death on both the other boys at the school and on the faculty. The author has created a bunch of memorable characters and, if the mark of a good book is one the reader thinks about, well after the book is finished, I think this one will qualify.Beyond the story itself, the author gets at how things/people are remembered or not remembered. There's also an "It's a Wonderful Life"-type element, showing how the loss of a seemingly ordinary person can have a huge impact on a group.One character, Howard, the history teacher, spends a lot of time reading about and teaching World War 1. I've added the Robert Graves book he talks about often, Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography, to my TBR list.This book is not without its flaws. I think the author could've cut about 100 pages from the pre-death portion of the book so much so that, at times, many times in fact, I felt like putting it down and not continuing. I'm glad I stuck with it because, in the end, this is one of the most memorable novels I've read in quite some time, one I won't soon forget.Highly recommended!!
I am going to give this four stars, but it's a grudging four stars... There's no question to me that in many particulars, this book was much better than many I've read recently. The characters and setting were perfectly rendered, the language is often beautiful, but also pitch-perfect for each character. And for most of its 660 pages, the story/stories are both entertaining (in terms of anecdotal hi-jinks) and emotionally compelling.Nevertheless, there's a lot that I'm ambivalent about here. It's a very ambitious novel in a lot of ways -- maybe too ambitious. The author is deft at handling his dozens of characters, writing from their POV, and making (almost) all of them believable, distinct, and likeable. But it's clear that he wants this book to be about much more than the growing pains of a group of boarding school boys and their teachers -- he wants it to be about History, about Ireland, about War, about Cultural Guilt, and Generational Betrayal. And at the center of it all, he wants it to be about the horror all reasonable people felt at the pedophile priest scandal of the past few years.I think it's too much. The ideas are too big, the morality writ too large. And I mean, the author has clearly *tried* to make the moral issues subtle and ambiguous, but the problem is, you can tell he doesn't believe it. He does do one neat reversal where *OKAY SPOILER FERREAL HERE* it turns out it is *not* the old priest whom every suspects who committed the molestation, but actually the swim coach who isn't a priest at all. And furthermore, it turns out that the priest actually *does* have urges to molest the kids, and is racked by desire and guilt over it all, but never actually does anything, and winds up being fairly admirable, for all that. *END SPOILER* So. I do give credit to the author for not giving us the completely obvious story, and trying to complicate it a bit.But it's not enough. Because ultimately, the story is still about how institutions (like the catholic church, very specifically) cover up terrible things in order to protect their own hides. And while I TOTALLY AGREE that that is a horrible, despicable fact of life, it does not make very interesting literature. Because everyone who participates in this cover-up immediately becomes so inexcusably terrible that it's very hard to care about them anymore, or what they do. And that's not to say it's unrealistic -- it's just not interesting.And to make matters worse, a couple of the characters in the book are really just parodies of human beings. The principal of the school is, from the beginning, presented as laughable caricature of an idiotic, anti-intellectual, utterly self-serving, small-minded administrator. And in the first part of the book, that works well, because everything is lighthearted and he makes a good comic foil to the other characters. But once things get serious, he starts to seem cheap and easy -- he's the mastermind behind the coverup, but who cares? The author saves himself from seriously considering why real people do terrible things by making this guy a joke.And the other people who go along with it... Even though I know real people do such things, the motivations in this particular situation just aren't clear. So it feels less like real decisions being made by believable people, and more like the author has a point to make about shared guilt, and how pretending things never happened just makes them come back at you ten times worse. Which is more convenient than convincing. So the whole last third of the book is a bit hard to read because everyone is just so damned irredeemable, that I was like, why do I even care about these people anymore?And getting back to the ambition thing... The Big Ideas are maybe not such a good idea. Basically there are a lot of characters who have seemingly irrelevant interests that we learn a great deal about -- and eventually, they DO all become relevant, and they DO all tie in together in a very neat and elegant way -- a
A hilarious, dark, hilarious, sprawling, hilarious book. Imagine sending The Inbetweeners to Hogwarts, but replace the wizards with priests and the magic with string theory. Magnificent - and did I mention it was funny?
This is not a cheerful book. The author touches on every imaginable component of adolescent life in the setting of a group of young students at a prestigious, all-male Catholic preparatory school located in contemporary Dublin. Drugs (lots), sex, alcohol, cliques, sports, video games, cell phones, depression, bullying, school yard fights, and even attempted time travel all play a part in this long (very long) narrative. Throughout all this there was a certain honesty and empathy with which the author shaped his characters and even the vilest of boys was portrayed as person you could feel sorry for. In telling this story, the author shifts between numerous points of view, including that of both students and teachers, to create a multi-dimensional view of a small school in all its disarray. The book is often weighed down by long narratives that I found exceedingly boring and I often skipped pages just to get through the book. I was very happy to be done with it.
This should have been 3 separate books (not 3 books split chronologically) as too many ideas are explored at once BUT each is valid and well tackled. I liked the thread about towing the line for personal advancement at work.
I agree with libsue. I didn't find it that funny at all, and I found the whole juvenile nature of the dialogue very boring after a while. I invested over 150 pages and then ran out of steam and couldn't finish it. Quite obviously about Blackrock College in Dublin. I can't understand how the Irish Times reckoned that it was a dead cert to be on the Booker shortlist. I couldn't see the quality in it at all. I left it behind in Greece on holidays , I hope somebody else picked it up and enjoyed it more than I did. I usually want to keep books in case I might read them in the future again, but I didn't even want to keep it.
A 672-page novel is an investment, but Skippy Dies by Paul Murray gets so much right that I hardly know where to begin. Okay, I¿m going to begin at the beginning¿The novel opens with the death of the eponymous Daniel ¿Skippy¿ Juster as the 14-year-old collapses in a donut shop. From there, we are taken back in time to the myriad events that lead up to that moment. And we spend the next 450 pages falling in love with Skippy, hoping for a different outcome. The following 200 pages are the aftermath, and are arguably the most compelling of a very compelling tale.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 on within the plot, which may be objectionable to some readers, but it¿s not the focus of the story.)While Skippy is certainly a central character, the novel is an ensemble piece. We meet Skippy¿s school pals, the older boys that bully them, the teachers and priests that teach them, the girls from the neighboring school, 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 so, so delicious! Ruprecht, the idiosyncratic genius; Mario, the teenage lothario; Howard ¿The Coward¿ Fallon, a teacher searching for himself; and an acting principal you¿ll love to hate. He 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 still so much to laugh about. I could not be less interest in Irish school boys, but Paul Murray has written a universal tale that simply shines. The writing is fantastic, and just gets better and better as the novel unfolds. I loved it from start to finish. Don¿t let the length deter you from one of this year¿s finest reads.
I wanted to love Skippy Dies- I truly did. I found it very slow going and not funny at all. In fact I found the drug use, abuse and violence disturbing.
A brilliant insight into the lives of ambiguous priests, disoriented adults and suicidal teenagers. It is shocking, moving and inspirational, full of cruel truths and nagging mysteries. A number one on your literary bucket-list!Skippy dies is not about a kangaroo.Skippy dies is not about the perfect romance.But it will soon be your favourite novel.
Chewy, but great themes and characters. I am glad I stuck this one out, I ended up enjoying it.