REVIEW: Skippy Dies (Paul Murray)

Skippy Dies was floating around on my amazon wish list because it kept popping up on the ‘if you liked this book’ section — but then I bought it on a 3 for 2 and for some reason this shunted it to the top of my reading pile. And I am so, so glad…

Most of the reviews for this book are effusive and full of glowing adjectives. Most of them are completely deserved. Mind you, most of the reviews paint it as laugh-out-loud funny, which it is not. To my mind, it is more of a drama with a very dark vein of humour running right through it. It opens with Skippy, teenage pupil at an Irish Catholic school, dying during a doughnut-eating competition, leaving the message ‘Tell Lori…’ in strawberry jam on the floor. Then it tracks back to the events leading up to it. The school life, from both the pupils and teachers side, is painted astonishingly accurately–in fact, Paul Murray has managed to write a multitude of teenage voices that are simultaneously more accurate and tongue-in-cheek than any other book I can recall reading, without once veering into irritating. The only flaw I can find was that the final section, in the aftermath of Skippy’s death, dragged on a little too long, having stepped over into melodrama territory. That being said, on closing the book after the final page I was just a little distraught that I couldn’t carry on.

There were two pages that I bookmarked. One section features the maths nerd Ruprecht explaining complex string theory and eventually paring it down to the idea that ‘the world is made of loneliness’, which seems such an elegant way of explaining the teenage view of the world. The second section I bookmarked was this:

“You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg – that your future will not be the roller coaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentist, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor-tiles, is actually largely what people mean they speak of ‘life’. Now, with every day that passes, another door seems to close, the one marked PROFESSIONAL STUNTMAN, or FIGHT EVIL ROBOT, until as the weeks go by and the doors – GET BITTEN BY SNAKE, SAVE WORLD FROM ASTEROID, DISMANTLE BOMB WITH SECONDS TO SPARE – keep closing, you begin to hear the sound as a good thing, and start closing some yourself, even ones that didn’t necessarily need to be closed…”

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