Steve's Reviews > Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
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Feb 16, 12


The juggler walks on stage to polite applause. He hasn’t won us over yet, but he seems confident that he will. Somewhat surprisingly, he announces what the dramatic highpoint of his act will be before even starting. (view spoiler) Like all jugglers, he has his clichéd elements: rings, knives, a little fire maybe. (view spoiler) But hopes are raised knowing the balls-aloft crowd nominated him for their big annual award. (view spoiler) Then he begins proving his chops. He adds quality and quantity, complexity and pizzazz. There are flourishes galore – balls behind his back and through his legs, then bounced on the floor with blurring speed. (view spoiler) And there’s never so much as a bobble. (view spoiler) We can’t help but be impressed when he keeps 7 balls going at once. (view spoiler) Applause, applause! This guy deserves his stay in Vegas. (view spoiler)

Actually, these weren’t really spoilers at all. I just saw Bird Brian use the sliding door to great effect in one of his recent reviews and thought it was fun and different.

Getting back to Skippy, this book has plenty to recommend it. The characters seemed very real, the dialog was pitch perfect, the conflicts were plausible, and the writing was top-notch. I can’t say whether it was plot-driven or character-driven because it was both. And it was funny. And sad. At times even thought-provoking.

As we’ve established, Skippy does die right at the start. The book then backtracks to tell us about the months leading up to that point. Skippy’s roommate, Ruprecht, is also central to the story – an overweight genius with an abiding interest in string theory and all eleven of its abstract dimensions. A cross-section of other friends includes one who was idiosyncratic in his earnest good nature, one who was nobody’s fool, and one who provided comic relief as a would-be Lothario (named Mario) who didn’t catch the irony of a lucky condom he’d been carrying for three years. Anyway, Skippy has conflicts (surprise, surprise). One is a dying mother, another is a dream girl at the neighboring school who is both out of his league and unaware of his existence. Besides that, she kind of has this thing going with bad-boy Carl who trades pills for affections. We get to know this cast of 14-year-olds well, with that odd mix of credulity and cynicism characteristic of the age.

Adults are given full treatment, too. There’s Howard (the Coward) who teaches history and lives with his American girlfriend Halley, who fell for him because he was "Irish-looking, by which she meant a collection of indistinct features – pale skin, mousy hair, general air of ill-health – that combine to mysteriously powerful romantic ¬effect". But Howard was also in the thrall of a substitute geography teacher, the alluring Aurelie (alliteratively speaking). She may have been a femme fatale, but she did inspire him to improve his classroom performance. One of the more poignant bits of the book was during an impromptu field trip where Howard told the boys about the WWI experiences of an Irish unit that had been renowned for their rugby prowess during school days only to find dramatic changes in their fortunes from the war as heroism was redefined in the wake of anti-English sentiment. Then there was Father Green (or Pere Vert as the boys called him). There’s a murkiness about this guy which would be a true spoiler to reveal. Another, Greg Costigan, was an exceedingly political school administrator. He was so bad it was funny. Anyone who talks about the school “brand” is meant to be a caricature, I figure. It’s surprising he wasn’t made out to be an American, one of the buzzword-wielding business-trained elite.

The plot makes its way to these various characters very skillfully; never too fast, never too slow. We get fights, bravery, cowardice, boy meeting girl, and even a few flirtations with the supernatural (or might that be quantum physics, as only Ruprecht could possibly know). I won’t go into the details because this is already too long, but I will say that any fears I had about jumping the shark (at the dance where Skippy meets Dream Girl) were off base. In Murray’s capable hands, I ended up buying it all – the White Goddess, the Irish mythology, the weird science, the Druid drug dealer – all of it.

Sadly, Skippy does die. But we’re better people for knowing his story and the stories of those around him. Murray tells it so well. (view spoiler)
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 59) (59 new)


Stephen M Great review Steve. I'm glad you liked it.


Steve Thanks, Stephen. I remember your review being one of the ones that led me to it. So thanks for that, too!


Susan Your wonderful review makes me want to read this book all over again!


Steve It's good to know it got a venerable 5 stars out of you, too, Susan. You were sad to see it end, if I recall.


Steve Oh man, you're absolutely right, Scott. What was I thinking?! (Now I wish there was some sort of an emoticon for a tail between legs while delusively winking.)


message 6: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek I like the way spoiler warnings allow you to read in two dimensions. I wonder if any books have tried to do it. Is that the role of DFW's footnotes?


Steve I love that idea, Ian. As you said, it could certainly apply to something like IJ. How do they even work those pages of endnotes in electronic versions of the thing? It was at least workable with the paper-based version, as long as your 2 bookmarks kept pace.


message 8: by Ian (last edited Feb 22, 2012 12:21PM) (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek I keep picking up "House of Leaves". Have you read it?

It seems to fool around with the idea of which is the primary text and which are not.

It's a collective, but it's all there in front of your eyes to explore.

I like the spoiler warning, because you can pretend it's not there and you can choose to ignore it or go there (at your own peril).

It's like what Murakami talks about as a dark cave that lures cats or us in.

Can we resist the temptation to look into the cave?


message 9: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Sorry if this has moved away from your review.


karen spoiler feature woo hoo! i remember my first spoiler feature review... but i would never be so gauche as to link it here... just being nostalgic...


message 11: by Ian (last edited Feb 22, 2012 12:35PM) (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek karen, it's your right to be gauche. (how would I find it otherwise?)


karen is like easter! there are 900 reviews - go find it!!

there is no prize!!!


Steve Ian, Scott: I like the tangents. Please feel free (as long as I'm forgiven for sometimes doing the same).

Karen: Where would any of us be without an occasional gaucherie or two.

Ian: Knowing you "right to be gauche" was a bad French - English oxymoron.


message 14: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek karen wrote: "there is no prize!!!"

There is enlightenment for me and enlikenment for you. But you already have enough likes.


message 15: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Steve wrote: "Ian: Knowing you, "right to be gauche" was a bad French - English oxymoron."

Sometimes, I'm almost as sinister as Dexter.


Steve :-/

or should that be :-\


message 17: by Richard (new)

Richard Well I only hope your left slash knows what your right slash is doing.


karen Ian wrote: "karen wrote: "there is no prize!!!"

There is enlightenment for me and enlikenment for you. But you already have enough likes."


never! i need constant validation or i weep.


message 19: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Steve wrote: ":-/

or should that be :-\"


We are all fundamentally of the same bent, though some of us are more bent than others.


karen you love my sweet tears


message 21: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Richard wrote: "Well I only hope your left slash knows what your right slash is doing."

Nice to see the master swordsman pop in for a quick slash.


message 22: by Richard (new)

Richard But then there's that old saying, "A rolling stone gathers no moss." Why does it gather no moss? you ask. Because it has no need of enlichenment.

So the moral of the story, Karen, is that you should strive to be like the rolling stone. Then you will no longer feel the urge for enlichenment and you will cease to weep.


message 23: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Steve wrote: ":-/

or should that be :-\"


When it comes to emoticons, I'm so maladroit.


message 24: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Hey, Richard, how mushroom is left in Funghi Town?


message 25: by Richard (new)

Richard Ian wrote: "Hey, Richard, how mushroom is left in Funghi Town?"

I don't know Ian, but my friends tell me I'm a fungi at parties. And thanks for the earlier compliment too! I like these absword re-posts ripostes.


message 26: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Don't they realise they have a sword-swallower of whirled renown in their midst?


Stephen M Scott wrote: "Steve - As an homage to the title of Skippy Dies, you should add an addendum to your review listing alternate, plot-revealing titles of classics; all in spoil-o-vision of course! For example, Of M..."

The Great Gatsby (view spoiler)
The Road (view spoiler)
The Catcher in the Rye (view spoiler)
White Noise (view spoiler)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (view spoiler)


message 28: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek Murakami's characters never seem to leave the well alone enough.


Megha Except when they have to step out to look for their cat.


karen those are great spoilers. i'm glad i have read all those books, because i cannot resist a "view spoiler" link.


message 31: by Steve (last edited Feb 23, 2012 03:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Steve I step out of the room for one minute and look what you kids have done to my comment section. Now it's nothing but word play and spoiler lampooning -- frippery of all kinds. Beyond that, when Stephen followed up on Scott's suggestion, he almost lured me into a premature revelation since The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is still on my to read list. Well, how would you like a taste of your own medicine, Mr. M.?

Infinite Jest (view spoiler)

And then of course there was everyone's favorite family show on cable:

The Sopranos (view spoiler)


Stephen M Steve wrote: "I step out of the room for one minute and look what you kids have done to my comment section. Now it's nothing but word play and spoiler lampooning -- frippery of all kinds. Beyond that, when Ste..."

I refuse to click that spoiler button!! Ah.... so tempting. I won't stop reading IJ until I can!


message 33: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian Heidin-Seek These examples are brilliant and hilarious.

It makes me want to think up some of my own(view spoiler).


karen i think you are safe to click that particular spoiler link. as someone who has read it 7 times, you can trust my authority...


Stephen M karen wrote: "i think you are safe to click that particular spoiler link. as someone who has read it 7 times, you can trust my authority..."

Ha, very clever Steve.

I'm still blown away about your 7 reads, kudos! How long does it usually take?


karen booof like a week i guess?


Stephen M House of Leaves (view spoiler)


Stephen M karen wrote: "booof like a week i guess?"

Impressive. Maybe I will scale such reading proficiency one day.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Most normal non-karen people spend more than a week reading it, Stephen.


karen a week is a long time, dude!


Stephen M Joshua Nomen-Mutatio wrote: "Most normal non-karen people spend more than a week reading it, Stephen."

I figured. I was going back and forth between a gushing complement of her reading abilities, might make me look like a suck-up, and playing it cool, like reading IJ in one week isn't that shocking. I think I found a good medium between the two in my comment.


karen it takes less time the more you read it though,come on! i am not a freak!


Steve karen = (view spoiler)


karen i had to google that!


Stephen M So did I. I must say, sounds appealing to me, a person who can get lost in a book, read 20 pages and then notice an hour has passed. 3 minutes for a page? for shame.


message 46: by Jason (new)

Jason I can't believe how many of my little book friends have read this! And it is so loved by all of them! Great review as always, (view spoiler).


Steve Well now maybe that tells you something, don't you think? I'm remembering it fondly all over again just typing this. However, (view spoiler)


karen hahaha we all have one review where we play with the "new" feature!


Steve I don't feel so bad if even karen says so. Now I need to look her first one up. What are the odds that it's dated after mine?


karen i don't even remember which one of mine it was.... but i know i did one...


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