Will Byrnes's Reviews > Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
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Mar 19, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: all-time-favorites-fiction, favorites
Read from March 19 to 26, 2011

Skippy Dies is a work of genius. Where else could you combine a coming-of-age tale with string theory, ancient Celtic mythology with fart humor, consideration of cultural forgetfulness with Druid drug dealers (say that five times fast), a look at adulthood as a continuation of adolescence with better tools but less hope, substance abuse of sundry sorts, from doughnuts to diet pills, from weed to heroin and cocaine, from sexual predation to the hormonal cravings of early adolescence to self-cutting? It may sound like too much but it all hangs together in its own entire and discrete dimension. Did I say that I laughed out loud many, many times? Did I say that I loved, loved, loved this book?

Paul Murray

Seabrook College, serving as our societal microcosm, is a six-year school in more-or-less contemporary Ireland, before larcenous corporate entities got all their wishes and left Ireland with an empty pot and no gold at all. Daniel “Skippy” Juster, who does indeed die in an opening scene, is a charming 14-year old with a hankering for a sweet thing named Lori. That is short for Lorelie, so break out your Vah-gner. Howard “The Coward” Fallon, a young teacher in a bad relationship, pines for an alluring substitute named Aurelie, which, I guess, makes her a golden variation on the theme. Can Skippy and/or Howard keep from being dashed on the rocks? The imagery of classical sirens resounds throughout the novel.

Ruprecht is Skippy’s genius, overweight roommate. He is very interested in string theory, particularly the notion of a possible eleventh dimension (don’t ask) and concocts experiments to test out his theories. That loud noise you hear might be Ruprecht attempting to transport matter into an alternate dimension. He has tales to tell about his parents, supposedly lost while kayaking in the Amazon. He plays the French Horn as well, and may be a bit too wedded to his analyses.

Carl is a troubled Columbine candidate, with a toxic home life and a host of friends one would definitely call the wrong sort. He deals drugs to students, and may sample the product a bit too much. He was obsessed with Lori before Skippy came along. Uh oh.

There is also a large cast of wise-cracking boys (mostly) who will definitely tickle your funny bone with their very witty, pun-soaked and profane banter, and creative nicknames for each other and adults as well. (My personal faves were “Pere Vert” for Father Green on the adult side and Kevin “What’s” Wong for student entries) Their conversations and their concerns make them very real, even if we do not spend a lot of time with most of them. For all you boys out there, Skippy offers plenty of scatological humor, although, being a very-over-age adolescent, there can never be quite enough for me. :-) Murray has a keen ear for the rhythm, tone and degrees of snarkiness these kids exude, leading one to think that either he recalls extremely well his time at the actual school on which Seabrook is based, or part of him never graduated.

The story opens with Skippy’s demise, then works up to that event from the past. Skippy has a lot to deal with. His swim coach is after him to shape up, for, among other reasons, Skippy is a natural in the pool. He is slack-jawed at the sight of Lori and struggles to establish a relationship with her, all the while being tormented by his romantic rival, the ominous, thuggish and maybe addled Carl. Add to that a mother dying of cancer and a father who can spare him no attention. Have a nice life. Oh, sorry. Once up to Skippy’s passing, the story continues, looking at how both teens and adults cope.

I was blown away by this book. I loved the characters, the story was compelling and the payload was considerable. I hated to put the thing down, or in this case, for the battery to run out, as I was reading it on a Nook. There is quite a bit of paralleling here about various sorts of dimensions that exist in close proximity to each other spatially or chronologically. There is a consideration of the Irish role in World War I and the subsequent national attitude about that, as well as how events in one’s personal past can define history on an individual basis, even if they might be somewhat misremembered, whether by design or not. Failure and redemption coexist nicely here. Growth and stasis as well. There is a look into string theory, which is a pretty neat trick, ancient religions and alternate dimensions occupy close turf as well.

A school filled with rambunctious teenaged-boys would be incomplete without the predictable evil principal. He remains a cardboard figure here, acting as the designated uber-schmuck to all around him. Think Dean Wormer from Animal House. He also personifies, beyond his cartoonish darkness, a more meaningful bleakness, voicing certain beliefs that most reasonable people would find troubling. There is also a very Snape-like priest, with a dark secret of his own, wandering the halls.

You will love Skippy and his bright-light roommate Ruprecht. Murray even gives us reasons to care about some of the unpleasant and damaged people who appear. You will laugh and you will cry. And you will never be able to think of Frost’s The Road Not Taken the same way again. With Skippy Dies Murray has proven, for any who might doubt it, that there is plenty of room for uproarious laughter in a work of great literature. Skippy Dies? I don’t think so. Skippy will live forever.

PS - This is the review I wish I had written - http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/boo...

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Comments (showing 1-37 of 37) (37 new)

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Susan One of my all time favourites too....have you read An evening of Long Goodbyes?.....almost as good!

Will Byrnes Susan wrote: "One of my all time favourites too....have you read An evening of Long Goodbyes?.....almost as good!"

No, but I have the book, and will definitely be getting to it at some point

message 3: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue Well! You certainly got my attention. Great review.

Will Byrnes Sue wrote: "Well! You certainly got my attention. Great review."
Thanks Sue. I hope so. It would be a shame to skip it.

message 5: by Sidharth (new)

Sidharth Panwar You're killing me, Will! You write such good reviews that I feel bad about not writing something half as good. And you introduce me to so many good books which I'm not able to read...
I noticed that you're reading it on Nook :). I love my Nook and had some problem accessing my bookmarks. I had to root mine to get all my bookmarks. How do you manage?

Will Byrnes I manage by reading almost nothing on electronic devices. I should probably get over it, but I pretty much hate reading books electronically. I read Skippy on good old ink and paper.

message 7: by Skip (new)

Skip Gotta move this out of my TBR pile. Was supposed to take it on vacation, but it got bumped in favor of Natchez Burning by Greg Iles. -->>Skippy Stern

Will Byrnes Definitely more fun than NB. Yeah, I would go with the new name.

message 9: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily Great review

message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Lily. Great book.

Jessica Gramby Amazing Review Will!

message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Jessica. It is an amazing book.

message 13: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason A lovely review

Margitte Great review, Will ! You really sell this book very well !

message 15: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes It is easy to gush when you come across one of the best reads of your life.

message 16: by Chance (last edited Sep 27, 2014 08:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chance Maree I loved this novel! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Margitte I ordered this book. Will have to wait three weeks, as usual, but I am really looking forward to reading it.

message 18: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes You won't be sorry.

Kimberly Picked it up from the library today. Very anxious to get started thanks to your review!

message 20: by Michele (new) - added it

Michele Well, I wasn't going to read this because people are listing it as YA. But you make it sound like a great book. So I'll put it on the TBR.

message 21: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes It is indeed a great book.

message 22: by Jaye (new)

Jaye I've found that a book being classified as YA doesn't mean it's only for young adults. I've enjoyed many and consider them to be for any age.

message 23: by Michele (new) - added it

Michele I know many people enjoy contemporary YA and I have liked a few. However, there are many, many that the well-read have said were great that I don't like. It's just my preference and it is not from a lack of trying.

message 24: by Jaye (new)

Jaye Michele wrote: "I know many people enjoy contemporary YA and I have liked a few. However, there are many, many that the well-read have said were great that I don't like. It's just my preference and it is not from ..."

I wasn't being critical. I just thought a good book might be missed because someone thought YA books were never for any other age.

message 25: by ANg (new) - added it

ANg OMG You had me from fart humour. Yup gonna read this as soon as I can get my hands onit. Thanks Will your rwviews are always helpful

message 26: by Ivonne (new) - added it

Ivonne Rovira Wonderful review: You've sold me!

message 27: by Sherry (new) - added it

Sherry Will would you recommend this book for a 14 year old boy who loves to read?

message 28: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Given what is on TV these days, I doubt there is anything in Skippy that would be more horrifying than that. But there are a lot of adult (as in grown-up, not sexual) themes that are likely to skip past a 14-yr-old's perception, and, while it is a pretty fast read, it is a fairly long book. He will certainly appreciate the humorous elements, if not the entirety of the point.

message 29: by Sherry (new) - added it

Sherry Thanks Will. This is my grandson so I am a bit protective. He is a prolific reader of eclectic taste so your comments make me feel comfortable giving him this book.

message 30: by Lela (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lela Fine, fine, fine. With this review & your statement (one of my favorites), I'll put the darn thing high on my TBR sky-high pile. Deep sigh.

Betsy Robinson I just finished reading it and posted my review. Thank you SO much for recommending this wonderful book, Will.

message 32: by Lilo (new) - added it

Lilo You have convinced me, Will. This book just went on my TBR-list and was given some priority. How can I resist a book that makes you crack up?

message 33: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes It is one of my all-time favorites

message 34: by Paromjit (new)

Paromjit Fantastic review, Will.

message 35: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Paromjit. Skippy is bloody amazing!

message 36: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Zibas Someone mentioned this book under a review for Ham and Rye. What a wonder this one must be, based on your excellent review. That's the problem with these good reads, they just keep multiplying.

message 37: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Like tribbles

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