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.

Book shopping in Paris (part 1)

Okay, I’ve edited this post since I messed up and posted about the wrong books … So here’s the corrected post with the books I really bought at Shakespeare & Co.

So I’ve just spent a few days in Paris and somehow I persuaded my boyfriend (now fiancee) to go to several bookstores – 5 in all – and I ended up bringing 16 books home. So look forward to short reviews of these 5 stores. And of course, I’m going to talk about the books I’ve bought!!

So on our day in Paris, we arrived late in the city, checked into the hotel and then went out for dinner. Afterwards, I was really happy to realize that Shakespeare & Co. was still open so that was our first book stop. I’ve visited Shakespeare and Co. before and it is really a great store. Lots and lots of books. Shakespeare and Co. has a lot of history and is always worth a visit. It’s very close to Notre Dame and the Seine and has a beautiful location.

So which books did I pick up in this great store? I picked up 4 books at this store.

Tetsu Saiwai: The 14th Dalai Lama

I have read a bit of a series of Mangas about Buddha and really loved it. So when I saw this Manga about the current Dalai Lama, I was instantly hooked.

Ali Smith: There but for the

I heard about this recently and really liked the idea. A man comes to a dinner party – and ends up locking himself in a room in the house for months (It’s inspired by a 1939 Broadway show The Man Who Came to Dinner). I read a few paragraphs in it before buying and the writing is what really sold me on it.

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

I’ve heard a lot about this book on The Guardian Books Podcast and it has been heavily promoted on the Goodreads page as well. A supposedly funny book about growing up in an Irish boarding school.

Jeffrey Eugenides: The Marriage Plot

I’ve read Middlesex a while ago and really liked it so I have been looking forward to this new book from Eugenides. It sounds really interesting – he takes the marriage plot idea from authors like Jane Austen and then gives it a modern twist. I really need to get around to reading The Virgin Suicides as well.