Friday, 4 June 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Skippy Dies

Shallow as I am I bought this because it looked so dam good. It looked so good that I ignored the fact that I'd started the author's debut novel and had to give up on it after about 100 pages (it was a comic novel that I didn't find funny and with a main character who annoyed the socks off me).

I'll admit I'm a bit of a sucker for books broken down into smaller novels and put together in a slip case, even if deep down I know I'm being suckered into paying a lot more than for the same thing in one volume.

By calling the book "Skippy Dies" and having that death occur in the first few pages Paul Murray has removed the risk of "spoilers". Set in a privileged Dublin boarding school, the novel starts with the untimely death of pupil Daniel (nicknamed Skippy because when he speaks he sounds a bit like the famous kangaroo) in a doughnut eating competition, with his best friend and child genius Ruprecht. The rest of the novel deals firstly with the build up to the death and then the aftermath. The first book/part "Hopeland" is a comic delight as it focuses on a a group of friends and captures the absurdity of school life for boys in their early teens to perfection (almost a strange relation to Inbetweeners). This is balanced by a focus on some of the teachers/priest at the school , mainly History teacher Howard who is going through his own relationship crisis

In the second book/part, "Heartland" various strands bound off in all kinds of directions, bringing in true love, alternative dimensions, the role of the Irish infantry in the first world war, the place of religion in modern education, a blossoming career in drug dealing, and the perils of playing Frisbee on your own. It is a mark of Murray's storytelling skill that he keeps things just about under control and balances the emerging dark heart with outrageous set pieces and dialogue that is really funny.

It is only in the third book/part "Ghostland" where despair takes over that you feel he loses his way a bit. There is little to light this third part despite a major finale and a slight sense of redemption for one character at the end. I found the gloom a bit too bleak with the actions of some characters so extreme , they just didn't seem to add up based on what had gone before

Still despite this what comes before makes it worth a go, it is a big novel with big ideas, and there is a real interest in discovering how the hell it will all fit together in the end.

You can buy Skippy Dies by Paul Murray here (this is the all in one volume version)


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