Sunday, 9 January 2011

Skippy Dies

Title: Skippy Dies

Author: Paul Murray

Number of pages: 661

Started: 27 December 2010

Finished: 9 January 2011

Opening words:

Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off his chair. It is a Friday in November, and Ed’s is only half full; if Skippy makes a noise as he topples to the floor, no one pays any attention. Nor is Ruprecht, at first, overly concerned; rather he is pleased, because it means that he, Ruprecht, has won the race, his sixteenth in a row, bringing him one step closer to the all-time record held by Guido ‘The Gland’ LaManche, Seabrook College class of ’93.

Apart from being a genius, which he is, Ruprecht does not have all that much going for him. A hamster-cheeked boy with a chronic weight problem, he is bad at sports and most other facets of life not involving complicated mathematical equations; that is why he savours his doughnut-eating victories so, and why, even though Skippy has been on the floor for almost a minute now, Ruprecht is still sitting there in his chair, chuckling to himself and saying, exultantly, under his breath, ‘Yes, yes’ – until the table jolts and his Coke goes fl ying, and he realizes that something is wrong.

Read a longer extract here.

Plot summary:

Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster is his roommate. In the grand old Dublin institution that is Seabrook College for Boys, nobody pays either of them much attention. But when Skippy falls for Lori, the frisbee-playing Siren from the girls’ school next door, suddenly all kinds of people take an interest – including Carl, part-time drug-dealer and official school psychopath . . . A tragic comedy of epic sweep and dimension, Skippy Dies scours the corners of the human heart and wrings every drop of pathos, humour and hopelessness out of life, love, Robert Graves, mermaids, M-theory, and everything in between.

What I thought:

I really enjoyed this book, despite being slightly put off by it being 660 pages long. This tale of life at an Irish Catholic Boys boarding school somehow struck a chord with me right from the beginning. It was humorous and well written and there were characters in it that you wanted to win through, and it was a book that drew you in from the prologue, where you learn how Skippy does indeed die, through to what led to his untimely death and its aftermath. A really good read.

To my mind, this book was a good contender to win this category on the Costa shortlist. I can see why Maggie O’Farrell won though. The two books are very different, but for me they were each very good contenders to win both the shortlist and the prize overall. Those two books were the best that I read from the shortlist.


Sarah said...

The weird thing is that it sounds like a short book; which it would have to be because something about the title is really off-putting...

Anyway, I am glad you have read and reviewed it to put me straight. I knew absolutely nothing about this book, except that it appears on various shortlists. I don't know where my outlandish prejudices come from!

I shall be interested to see what Kerry thinks when he reads it: the implication was that he wasn't that keen and I am curious about his reasons.

Does it contain much maths? I rather like novels with mathematical content.

Random Reflections said...

Sarah I wasn't sure what I would make of this book but was pleasantly surprised. I am meeting up with fellow Costa shortlist readers tonight so I'll see what they think. If string theory is your thing then this book could be for you!

Sarah said...

Er... Very basic quantum mechanics is my thing. String theory may be pushing it! Do you go to a Costa based book group? Sounds like fun.

Random Reflections said...

Sarah - I think you should broaden your mind to string theory.

Some colleague and I decided to read the Costa Novels shortlists (we did the Bookers last year as well). But only two of us (out of seven) read all of the books. One person, who is a voracious reader, gave up after three books in disgust at the calibre of this year entries.

We then met up the night the winner was announced to decide who we thought should win. A poetry book won overall though and we hadn't read those...