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Skippy Dies: A Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 676 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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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.
Now give these teenagers cell phones, video games, computers, and a voracious appetite for pills of all sorts. Make the boarding school a Catholic one, with secretive priests, and set it in pre-slump go-go Dublin. And, not least of all, in the first chapter kill off the protagonist in a doughnut shop, thus setting up an excellent mystery.
"Skippy Dies" made the 2010 Booker Prize long list, and it's a pity it didn't win. Murray has an unerring eye for the sufferings of 14-year-old boys and the fecklessness of middle-aged teachers. "Skippy" is a long novel that moves back and forth between various characters. It isn't perfect; there's a bit too much time spent on the scientific speculations of Skippy's roommate, Rupert, as well as on the video games that Skippy himself plays. However, the novel moves briskly along, for the most part, complete with a Gotterdammerung ending that actually seems apt.
I'm recommending this to all of my teacher friends. School principals can read it if they dare. And if you're a parent of a teenager (or ever have been), you'll find "Skippy Dies" riveting.
With this novel being set in a private Catholic boys school in Ireland at least 20 years ago, it came as no surprise that child molestation should be integral to the plot. How it fits in I won't give away, but I found it difficult to accept such a serious subject in an otherwise frivolous setting. Try as he might, the author simply doesn't succeed for me in mixing comedy and tragedy. I felt pulled in too many directions and ultimately left feeling more empty than either amused or moved.