A Novel by Paul Murray
2010 / 672 Pages
The Setup: 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 . .
Don’t you listen in class? Poetry’s never about what it says it’s about, that’s the whole point of it. Obviously Mrs Frost or whoever isn’t going to be too happy with him going around telling the world about this time he gave it to her up the bum. So he cleverly disguises it by putting it in a poem which to the untrained eye is just about a boring walk in some gay wood.
Paul Murray’s “Skippy Dies” may be my number #3 choice for best book I read in 2010, but it’s also my #1 choice for book of the year. Maybe I’m spoiling the surprise that awaits you over the next two days, but my top two selections were not published in 2010. Remember the rules here, items on my list didn’t have to be published this year; they just had to be read by me for the first time in 2010.
Spoiler Alert! Fourteen year old Catholic boarding school teenager Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster does in fact die in the opening pages of this nearly seven hundred page novel. After that unfortunate incident is dealt with, we flash backward in time to learn more about the events leading up to his tragic demise.
Murray’s novel serves as a pretty accurate guide to the way that being a teenager pretty much flat out sucks in every possible way imaginable. The young friends in this novel have all just about reached the point where the blinders are coming off and the realities of what it means to leave their childhood dreams behind and join the world of adults is starting to set in. They’ve begun to realize that maybe they’re not going to be the media sensation that the TV, video games, and their parents have promised, maybe they aren’t so special after all, maybe their just another person. None of them are quite ready to give up their dreams just yet however.
The shining example of this is the overweight outcast of the group named Ruprecht who is obsessed with M-Theory quantum physics and repeatedly performs rudimentary and childish experiments in attempts to confirm what he believes about the universe to be true. He can’t fathom what it would mean to live in a world where he is wrong.
It doesn’t help matters much for the group that just about all of the adults surrounding them are majorly flawed. They’ve been worn down by the very realities the kids are just beginning to grasp as well as their unfulfilled desires, some of which are twisted and darkly disturbing.
Throughout the course of the novel Murray rapidly switches point of view and tense as he lays out the story. You’d think this would get confusing quickly, but surprisingly it doesn’t. Rather, it serves to keep the story feeling fresh and rapidly paced.
The one big idea that Murray seems to be driving home in “Skippy Dies” is that even though we all enter and leave this world alone, we’re absolutely terrified of living our lives in solitude. We all need each other in order to survive. This point is really emphasized in the final third of the novel which focuses on the aftermath of Skippy’s death and the void his absence leaves in the lives of those that are left to carry on.
Don’t let the title, or this review for that matter, make you think that this book is a downer because it’s far from it. It’s one of the funniest, most honest sounding novels I’ve read in a long time. All of its characters are complex and delivered in such a way that they feel genuine and there’s one heck of a twist near the middle of the book that I sure didn’t see coming that really made me question my line of thinking up to that point.
“Skippy Dies” will have you laughing a lot, and maybe even crying a few times before it’s all over, but one thing’s for sure, it’s worth the journey.
R.I.P. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster