Paul Bryant's Reviews > Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
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's review
Sep 12, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels, really-big-timeconsumers
Recommended for: everybody
Read from September 12 to 24, 2011

Q: Oh, what's this? I don't quite understand. As I recall you said a few derogatory things about Skippy Dies when you were on p 120 and even by p 250 you weren't dancing in the streets and giving out free copies, and yet, here we see five fat stars sitting there, I counted them, and as I understand it that's the maximum number you can award, so what accounts for this seeming change of heart and are you a little ashamed of your original remarks? Would you wish to do a little public recanting?

A : Yes, well, thank you for reminding me, but may I say that this brilliant novel is a very slow burner which gradually changes its character from – may I say? – relentless, verging on annoying, schoolboy humour (it's set in a posh school) into horror, terror, cruelty, you know, the whole nine yards of human experience, it's right here. Did I say it's brilliant? But you do need a little patience. And I would like to thank all of the people on this site who wrote great reviews (Paquita, Krok Zero and David Giltinan for instance) and those who told me to carry on. Thank you.

Q: So what was that thing you were telling me about Romeo and Juliet and Truman Capote? I wasn't really listening – you can go on at times you know.

A: Oh well, the title, you see, Skippy Dies, plus the very first couple of pages, in which Skippy actually dies, gives the central event of the book – 661 pages long – completely away. So it's like Romeo & Juliet where the prologue tells you

A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife

See? it gives away the whole plot immediately. Also, in Truman Capote's best story Children on Their Birthdays he tells you that the amazing Miss Lily Jane Bobbitt will be run over by a bus in the first paragraph. First you think – how can this device work? But it does.

Q: What were you saying about how long it was? I mean it's actually really bloody long isn't it.

A: I was saying that it's 661 pages and not a page too long! Because it's like the way Jonathan Franzen makes his last two novels work. He gets his family and he starts filling in all the details, and one thing leads on very naturally to the next, so that there's kind of a plot but it's more like the plot in your own life, i.e. doesn't feel like a plot, and in Skippy, Paul Murray fills in the school and a few of the the foul-mouthed boys and their teachers and it's like a giant canvas, which bit shall I add in today, how about some trees here and a car crash there, and lots of drugs over here, and some horrible sex behind that car park. Not that there's any other resemblance between Mr Franzen and Mr Murray, it's just a kind of technique thing which for me works magnificently.

Q: I heard you ranting on about the Booker as usual. What's that got to do with the price of a pound of artichokes?

A: Skippy made the 2010 Booker long list – that's all. Not even the short list. I mean, what? What's that all about? Also, it made the Costa Prize shortlist but didn't win. Maggie O'Farrell won both damned prizes for The Hand that First held Mine. So now I can't read that one because I'd be reading through the clenched teeth of resentment.

Q: If you could pick one reason why you thought this was so fivestarry, what would...that...reason...beeeee...? Mmmm? And can I have the last piece of carrot cake?

A: This is a book about youth culture which in Britain is a phrase often pronounced sardonically in Estuary English like this :

Yoof cowcha

You could add an equally sardonic "innit" for extra effect, as in :

"It's yoof cowcha, innit"

I've complained in other reviews that often when there are actual young characters in novels the dialogue sounds like the author is one of those elderly uncles still trying to crack on that he's down with the kids and hip to the beat on the street, with toe curling results. Skippy Dies gets everything note perfect. Paul Murray knows what boys talk like. It's almost like he was one not very long ago. I enjoyed the total beyond-fetishising beyond-obsession centrality of the mobile phone. I enjoyed the mad disjunction between all the stuff in the boys' heads (love! Sex! Science!) and the actual reality they inhabit (being jerked around! Bad blowjobs! Stupid experiments which fail!). I enjoyed the vitality and boundless fizzing onrushing prose which Paul Morris brings to the subject of wretchedness and bleak betrayal.

Q: One last thing – who was your favourite character?

A: Mario, the 14 Year old Italian-Irish would-be stallion, who is consistently good value. Regarding the upcoming Hallowe'en Hop, for instance, he says: "I don't know about you guys, but I am planning to score a lot of bitches at this Hop. Probably I will start with one really hot girl, straight sex, no frills. Then I will have a sixty-nine. Then it will be time for a threesome."

To summarise : Skippy Dies - believe the hype.

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02/04/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-31 of 31) (31 new)

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Paquita Maria Sanchez A man of your word!

Paul Bryant I'll give it 100 pages....

message 4: by Paquita Maria (last edited Sep 13, 2011 04:14AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paquita Maria Sanchez I don't have that in me. I'm stubborn.

Paul Bryant Paquita Maria, life is too short! 100 pages - are we having fun yet? If not, then out you go!

Donna If it's not to be, I give up at 60. But I think you're right, 100 would be more sure.

Danica I think I had the same reaction as you for the first few hundred pages. For me the book got going maybe 60-70% in, when things take a turn for the darker. Comparatively late, but what vrooooom it had! A strong finisher, this one.

message 8: by Paul (last edited Sep 19, 2011 11:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant thanks for the encouragement - the bain of my reading life is big novels which aren't bad enough to jack in but aren't making you leap with happiness neither - Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was one such - but this one is, as I say, extremely readable. I have the feeling that every other reader finds it hilarious whereas I find it quite good.

Paul Bryant Hey Danica - you were 100% right!

Paquita Maria Sanchez You liked it! You really, really liked it! (Psst...his name is Paul Murray, though. I know, it's as plain as an unsalted cracker, and therefore highly forgettable.)

message 11: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant oops, corrected! (it's late here...)

Jennifer (aka EM) Yay. :-p

(so who's read his first, An Evening of Long Goodbyes - and if you have, is it worth sticking out like Paul stuck out Skippy?)

corine im on page 259, will definitely continue reading. it's good so far.

message 14: by Ian (new) - added it

Ian "Marvin" Grayejoy I'm glad you liked this.

I'm going to read his two books in chronological order.

Did you find that what you had reservations about up to page 250 or whatever made sense at the end? Or did it still need an edit?

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

Paul Bryant I would have cut some of the first 250 pages or demanded rewrites, taking into consideration what he pulls off in the last 350 pages.

David I always knew you were a man of discernment. But, seriously, I'm really glad you liked it. Your review is great, and identifies why the book is so affecting much more specifically than does my slightly meandering, overly personal effort. But then, overly personal reviews have always been a specialty of mine.
soon you will read the Goon Squad. You can hear its siren call. It's just a matter of time.

Jennifer (aka EM) @Ian in 14 - I'll be interested in how that goes for you.

Nancy Martira You have given me the wherewithal to stick with Skippy.

Coreycw I'm on page 125ish....and you have given me reason to power through.

message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant that's where it starts getting good...

message 21: by Deborah (new) - added it

Deborah Thank god. Next read chosen.

Mia (Parentheses Enthusiast) Wonderfully hilarious review that's inspired me to plop this onto the already too-large pile of to-reads. Cheers!

message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Mia - it might make the pile topple over though

message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Skippy is one of my all time faves. Appreciate your smart approach.

message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Will

David Hi Paul!

Margitte I felt exactly like about the whole nine yards of everything in the book and also gave it five stars. What a perfect review for this book - at least for those of us who share the same opinion. lol.

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

Paul Bryant well, thank you v v much !

Margitte "It's yoof cowcha, innit"
Indeed, sir, indeed! And I happily walk away giggling as usual. You're a hoot, Paul, but you know that!

message 30: by Allie (new) - added it

Allie Riley Superb review! I've just picked this one up from a charity shop. Glad to see it was worth the 50p I paid!

message 31: by Christine (new) - added it

Christine Zibas Fantastic review. If reviews were books, I'd sure read this one and nominate it for a Booker or two!

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