Sunday, August 22, 2010

Paul Murray - Skippy Dies

The Skippy Dies page on the Man Booker website. 

The Paul Murray (author) page on Wikipedia. Apparently many Paul Murrays are famous enough to have Wikipedia entires. Interestingly they are all either creatives or sportsmen.

From the Guardian
...'Anyone?' he repeats, looking over the class, deliberately ignoring Ruprecht Van Doren's upstretched hand, beneath which the rest of Ruprecht strains breathlessly. The rest of the boys blink back at Howard as if to reproach him for disturbing their peace. In Howard's old seat, Daniel 'Skippy' Juster stares catatonically into space, for all the world as if he's been drugged; in the back-row suntrap, Henry Lafayette has made a little nest of his arms in which to lay his head. Even the clock sounds like it's half asleep.

From Penguin
...On the chequered tiles beneath the table Skippy is writhing in silence. ‘What’s the matter?’ Ruprecht says, but gets no answer. Skippy’s eyes are bulging and a strange, sepulchral wheezing issues from his mouth; Ruprecht loosens his tie and unbuttons his collar, but that doesn’t seem to help, in fact the breathing, the writhing, the pop-eyed stare only get worse, and Ruprecht feels a prickling climb up the back of his neck. ‘What’s wrong?’ he repeats, raising his voice, as if Skippy were on the other side of a busy motorway. Everyone is looking now: the long table of Seabrook fourth-years and their girlfriends, the two St Brigid’s girls, one fat, one thin, both still in their uniforms, the trio of shelfstackers from the shopping mall up the road – they turn and watch as Skippy gasps and dry-heaves, for all the world as if he’s drowning, though how could he be drowning here, Ruprecht thinks, indoors, with the sea way over on the other side of the park? It doesn’t make any sense, and it’s all happening too quickly, without giving him time to work out what to do –

In the Guardian, Patrick Ness writes

Skippy's best friend is the corpulent computer genius Ruprecht, and the novel opens with Ruprecht and Skippy having a doughnut-eating race at Ed's, the local hangout for Seabrook students. To Ruprecht's baffled horror, Skippy collapses off his chair. He isn't choking, but there's nothing Ruprecht can do except watch as Skippy writes "Tell Lori" on the floor in doughnut jam before expiring.
The story then rewinds and expands, encompassing not only what Skippy meant and who Lori is, but also Howard the Coward, a history teacher returned in shame from an abortive career in the City...
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more sprawled across these pages, and Murray is terrific at nearly all of it. He's brilliant, for example, on the painfully poignant combination of credulity and cynicism that defines being 14 years old. Skippy's classmates will listen with complete belief as Ruprecht discloses his plans to open a door to alternate universes and then say, feelingly, "I wish I was in the 11th dimension. With some porn."

The Times review says
A brief summary can’t do justice to the variety of themes that Murray tosses about — cosmology, the first world war, role-playing computer games, prehistoric portals to fairy kingdoms etc — or the skill with which he connects them up...

The Independent review says
There's the only real problem. The book strays near some dark territory (self-harm, domestic violence, bereavement, sexual abuse), but maintains its light, utterly readable, skippy tread throughout. In this it is reminiscent of Zadie Smith's White Teeth – intricate of structure, charming of surface, adept at winding science and history into its design, it can't in the end decide how serious or funny it wants to be.

The Telegraph review calls it a dark tale of adolescence

Seabrook is from an Irish word for “house of the fairies” – who live in a parallel world to ours. Cruel and beautiful, they sometimes slide up against us, play beautiful music, enchant us and steal our children. Paul Murray intriguingly mixes this folklore with physics – “M?theory”, which states that the universe is 11-dimensional and made up of vibrating strings, allowing for an infinite number of universes.
Attempting to crack theory and enter these other worlds is Ruprecht van Doren, an obese, French horn-playing near-genius. He shares a room with the eponymous Skippy (named after the kangaroo), a sweet, thoughtful boy whose death is the catalyst for the novel. The book deals with the events leading up to it, allowing Murray to give a panoramic view of public-school life. Here are the boys whose only thoughts are about sex (“I wish I was in the 11th dimension… with some porn”); here are the lonely, loserish teachers – repressed homosexuals, City failures; the headmaster (“The Automator”), a product of the system who will do anything to keep it going; the ascetic priests whom the boys tease (the French teacher’s name, Father Green, translates, to endless delight, as Père Vert).

Author Interviews:

Paul Murray 
talks to Claire Dudman, Keeper of the Snails. She writes about her thoughts on Skippy Dies here

+ says at theBookseller 

two powerful fictions were being told in wider society (while Murray was writing Skippy Dies). The first was the build-up to the Iraq war, or "a huge institutional lie" as Murray puts it. The second is the Irish economic boom and the country's subsequent collapse. Murray says Ireland moved from a "1950s culture into a 21st century culture in a very short period of time".
He says: "I used to work in a bookshop and when customers were disappointed about something, which happened quite often, they would say 'oh, your days are numbered' and say it with a certain type of triumphalism.
"But when the internet was starting to take off, there was a huge amount of propaganda saying how everybody's lives would be completely reorganised and how we interact and communicate with one another would change. We wouldn't need to go to the shops anymore or walk down the street. There was a massive goldrush for this new business paradigm. Everyone would get rich off the back of it. But it soon disintegrated and everyone lost a lot of money."

Paul Murray's previous book was An Evening of Long Goodbyes which was shortlisted for the 2003 Whitbread prize. 

My two cents:
Skippy Dies at 661 pages is a thick book. All the reviews I read seemed to suggest that the length was not a disadvantage. The themes of the book seem interesting and very relevant to the present times. The extracts make it clear that the language is not showy or off-putting. I intend to read this book though it is unlikely to be this year. 

PS: yes the order is age difference ascending. Murray is the closest in age to me. And nope, no one on that list is younger


sunil said...

But why why why read the reviews before the book?

Echo/Lavanya said...

Why not? It is similar to asking friends for brand recommendations or restaurants to check out etc. That doesn't mean you will never impulse buy. Likewise.

That said, I must point out what an interesting exercise reading several reviews of a book is, especially if you do it one after another. A lot of the reviewing is formulaic and then, someone surprises you with a nice insight. I enjoy it.