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[380] Skippy Dies: A Novel – Paul Murray

” A pale fellow of slight build, he looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth; in his file, however, you will find Attitudinal Problems, Inattention, Disruptive Tendencies, Vomiting in Class and Playing Frisbee Alone. Trouble comes in every shape and size . . . ” (409)

Packed with sci-fi endeavors, juvenile escapades, religious hypocrisy and bits of forgotten Irish history, it’s difficult to nail Skippy Dies into one category. If not for the handful of vocabulary strewn over the pages, the book would have been a solid YA book.

It’s no spoiler that Skippy dies in the novel: he’s gone by the opening pages of the prologue, while he’s in a doughnut eating contest with his best friends. But neither is he choked nor is the doughnut to blame for, because he hasn’t eaten any. Following his sudden demise, Murray takes readers back in time to learn about the sweetly engaging 14-years-old until the Tragic Event. Unveiled in deluge are many intertwining subplots that revolve around Seabrook, a venerable all-boy Catholic school where the order of priests begin to loosen their tight grip to secular influences after a century-long dominance.

. . . Seabrook College really is a bulwark of tradition, stability, constancy, all of the things it says in the brochure, and so in spite, no doubt, of their best intentions, they can’t help viewing the Tragic Event, the suicide of this boy. They don’t know, as a hostile act, a kind of vandalism, a swear-word wontonly scratched into the sleek black paint of their lives. (466)

Suicide, but why? Indeed, the mysterious demise of Skippy has become a shameful stain to the long-standing prestige of Seabrook that the acting principle, wants to shove it under the carpet. When rumor of the cause crystallizes into certainty, the board decides to hush.

Despite the school’s stringent policy in regard to the fairer sex, it’s inevitable that boys like Skippy and his friends want to pursue more than an acquaintance with girls in the neighboring convent school. As puberty gathers momentum, quirks, oddities and singularities turn from badges of honor to liabilities to be concealed. Fate has it that Skippy is smitten with Lori, the very girl in whom Carl, a teenage durgdealer and psychopath, is in love with. The latter is the culprit for turning Halloween dance into a vomit spree, for which the school holds Skippy responsible.

First at intervals, then, in seconds, en masse, with a noise like nothing Howard had ever heard before, what seemed like all two hundred teenagers were throwing up . . . in various attitudes of expulsion . . . (228)

The book, although a bit too long, with rambling sections that should have been either abridged or tied up more tightly, is a delightful mix of interesting characters. Skippy’s best friend, the genius Ruprecht who is passionate for multi-dimension theory and quantum physics, remains faithful to his friend’s memories. The endearing history teacher, Howard (the Coward), who has been enfeebled by his own pathetic fears, has not stood up for anything—until Skippy’s death compels him to confront and challenge the school’s hypocrisy. All the boys have distinctive personalities that are reminiscent of the seven dwarfs. Aside from the uproar and humor is the underlying moral that old traditions and standard of decorum have become anachronistic in the face of technological advent, in which all notions of privacy are abandoned.

661 pp. Hardback. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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8 Responses

  1. This was is already on my list. Your review further intrigues me about this one.

  2. I’ve had this on my radar for a while, but as my local bookseller doesn’t stock it, I’ve been wondering if it’s worth ordering. I think based on your review that I will. I enjoy quirky stuff. Sounds right up my alley.

    • I just wish Murray would be easy on the technical sections that seem to be too rambling. Otherwise I like the book and enjoy reading the adventure of the boys.

  3. sorry to see this one was a borrow as I know you picked it up in Paris! Oh well…still sounds like a good one 😀

    • It’s a borrow because I find it a bit too long, could have been shorter and tighter. It’s not easy to carry a book around that weighs 5 lbs!

  4. This one has been on my list since it came out. the only thing holding me back is its size, which I know is pathetic. If I could just snag it on audio…

    • Just when I turned the last pages of the book, it occurred to me that it would be great fun to listen to the audio. You’re the perfect candidate for that—go for it!

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