Paul Murray: Skippy Dies (review)

So Skippy dies. On page 5. Choking to death on a donut, it seems. So that was that, I guess … right? Nope. Wrong. This is one novel not to miss. I was a bit confused at first but the more I read, the more I loved it. There’s so much in this. So much story. So many layers. No wonder it was long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2010.

This is a novel about all the horrors of being a teenage boy in an all-boy college. And the horrors of having been one of these boys and having to return to teach them. There are two – to a certain extent – parallel stories. One about young Skippy, one about the teacher Howard. Both experience love for the first time – and fail miserably at it.

I do think this book will be even better if you read it a second time. There’s lots going on in it and I think one could really enjoy the smaller parts of the storyline even more a second time around because the first time, one is too caught up in the action – and the fun. Because this is a funny novel. Not laugh-out funny but very enjoyable – while at the same time tackling some very serious issues.

Because why did Skippy die? After he dies in the prologue, he magically comes alive when the book begins so that we can follow his last time on earth and find out what happened. I always admire an author that can reveal huge parts of the plot so early and still keep you captivated and reading on. It’s not on the level of Orhan Pamuk in Snow. But still, I wanted to know. What happened? Did he choke? Was he murdered?

In some ways, the story is very banal. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl doesn’t quite fall in love with boy, then girl seem to fall in love after all … but things get muddled when it’s not only boy and girl but all the boy’s friends, the girl’s friends, the school bully, drug dealers and more who all meddle.

And at the same time as this is going on, Howard the Coward breaks up with his girlfriend after falling in love with a substitute teacher. But if there’s one thing this story teaches us, it is that boys don’t get any better at understanding girls with age. Oh – and that if you’re meant to chaperone a school dance, it’s a really good idea to actually do it!

I haven’t even begun to talk about Rubrect Van Doren, Skippy’s roommate, and his attempts to not only prove string theory but open a portal as well as solve what he believes is Skippy’s murder.

There’s ghosts, there’s a fire, there’s the reason why Howard is nicknamed ‘the Coward’, there’s priests and geeks and more. Murray crams it all into this excellent novel and he’s made one very enjoyable read out of it – with some very surprising twists along the way.

Read more:

The Guilt of Killing off Characters – interview with Paul Murray

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray – Book review by Patrick Ness from the Guardian

  • Title: Skippy Dies
  • Author: Paul Murray
  • Publisher: Penguin
  • Year: 2010
  • Pages: 661 pages
  • Stars: 4 out of 5 stars
  • Longlisted for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for fiction

NB: I read this book in 2011 – I’m just a bit late in writing the review.

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