Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

9780141009957HThose who know me and who are familiar with the books I love and review favourably will not be shocked to discover that I loved this book. I love baggy tales, the way an author can make something generic, everyday, into something mythic. That is exactly what Paul Murray does with Skippy Dies.

Set in Seabrook College for Boys in Ireland, the story brims with characters, but at the centre of it is Daniel "Skippy" Juster, a boarder at the school. He rooms with the overweight scientific genius Ruprecht Van Doren and is in love with the distant and beautiful Lori, who goes to the girl’s school opposite. As the title suggests, Skippy’s fate is already sealed and that is exactly how the story opens. But despite knowing this, I still desperately wanted him to live.

Murray writes teenage boys perfectly – in all their romantic, lustful glory. One of my favourites was Mario, determined to prove his reputation as an Italian stud:

“There is already too many maths. More beaver, less maths, that’s what I say.”

There’s also Geoff, who cares deeply about his mates; Niall, caustic and sharp; Ruprecht who barely registers the existence of girls, so caught up is he in his research. And then there’s Daniel, who I totally fell in love with.

But the book does not focus solely on the boys in the school. There’s also Father Green, the French teacher, who terrorises the boys by dragging them off to help in his charity work. Howard, the History teacher, haunted by a boyhood mistake and the charms of the substitute Geography teacher. Carl, Skippy’s damaged, drug-addicted love rival.

It’s a book about the failings of human beings. No one is perfect. Everyone is struggling to do something big – Ruprecht is looking to prove the existence of parallel dimensions; Howard wants to fall in love more dramatically than he has done with his live-in girlfriend. But everyone is hampered by the reality of everyday life. It’s a story about how important school is, how one action in school can take on a mythic quality and haunt the rest of your life.

I adored this book from the first page. I love books that take science, string theory, parallel dimensions, true love, and weave it into a genuinely human story about life. The characters are so true to life, it’s both funny and tear-jerking.

I was not at all surprised to discover that it was long-listed for the Man Booker prize in 2010. I’m only shocked it didn’t run away with the prize.

Penguin, 2011. ISBN-10:0141009950. 672pp.

2 comments on “Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

  1. Jackie
    January 9, 2012

    It does seem to weave a lot of unusual topics together, but it mostly looks like a story of how the characters interact with each other. Why do you think the author opens with Skippy’s death? Or would telling give too much away?

  2. Hilary
    January 16, 2012

    Great review, Nikki! Well, this is a surprise (but possibly only to me). Perhaps the title is a tiny bit too clever for its own good, because, for some reason, since it has been around, it has not tempted me even to find out that it’s not about any of the things I thought it might be about. Maybe it’s my age, and I made the subconscious leap that another of the Foxes made to a much-loved childhood character ….. who knows how the jolly old brain works. Anyhow, this book is not about anything I might conceivably have thought it was about, and it sounds most original and intriguing – and structurally interesting too!

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This entry was posted on January 9, 2012 by in Entries by Nikki and tagged , , , , , .

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Acknowledgment

  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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