three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
By: 
Paul Murray
user_rating: 
0

A-Skippy DiesIrish novelist Paul Murray's first novel, An Evening of Long Goodbyes (4 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2004), was short-listed for the Whitbread Prize. Skippy Dies, his tragicomic second novel, was recently long-listed for the Booker Prize.

The Story: Dublin's Seabrook College, an all-boys Catholic prep school, attracts the misfits of the teenage world. Fourteen-year-old Daniel "Skippy" Juster is one of these boys, a sensitive guy who finds refuge from life's troubles in zombie video games. At the start of the novel, Skippy dies in the local doughnut shop, where he has been engaged in a doughnut-eating contest with his brilliant friend Ruprecht Van Doren, who hopes to use string theory to open a portal into a parallel universe. Just before his death, Skippy manages to write his beloved's name on the floor in raspberry doughnut filling. The rest of the novel pans back to offer perspectives on his death (and attempts to contact him) from an eccentric cast of characters as it deals with Irish history, Robert Frost's poetry, M-theory, sex, drugs, and, of course, the perils of adolescence.
Faber & Faber. 661 pages. $28. ISBN: 9780865479432

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"Murray's humor and inventiveness never flag. And despite a serious theme--what happens to boys and men when they realize the world isn't the sparkly planetarium they had hoped for--Skippy Dies leaves you feeling hopeful and hungry for life. Just not for doughnuts." Jeff Giles

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"One of the great pleasures of this novel is how confidently he addresses such disparate topics as quantum physics, video games, early-20th-century mysticism, celebrity infatuation, drug dealing, Irish folklore and pornography. ... Murray confidently brings these strands together, knitting them into an energetic plot that concerns Skippy's death--and his roommates' attempts to contact him afterward--but also expands into an elegy for lost youth." Dan Kois

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Murray's description of Barry and Carl's harsh underworld has its own terrifying, alien beauty--a place where ‘the blokes are all scobes in tracksuits and the birds are mingers with ponytails and earrings as big as their heads.' The mixture of tones is the book's true triumph, oscillating the banal with the sublime, the silly with the terrifying, the sweet with the tragic. In short, it's like childhood." Jess Walter

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The drawn-out plot fluctuates from engrossing to eye-rolling. Passages of poetic brilliance are followed by mundane musings. ... Skippy Dies is a mostly entertaining book from an excellent writer who will probably get better." David LaBounty

New York Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Throughout this wildly uneven, fitfully entertaining book, Mr. Murray seems to be grasping for a unified theory of storytelling, one that vaguely fuses physics with adolescence in unexpectedly poignant fashion. ... But it takes Mr. Murray hundreds of pages' worth of ho-hum Seabrook ambience to get where he's going." Janet Maslin

Critical Summary

The New York Times called Skippy Dies "luxuriantly eccentric," which aptly describes this dark, entertaining look at adolescence--from drug use to self-mutilation to sadism. With its outlandish incidents and circular, shifting narration, the novel is certainly no typical coming-of-age tale. While rewarding for its deep and multifaceted exploration of teenage angst, Skippy Dies frustrated a few critics. The novel's myriad narrative strands--some of which coalesced into a larger vision while others did not--felt like overkill; other reviewers commented that after Skippy dies a second time, the book loses some momentum. Still, Skippy Dies is an intelligent, well-written look at teenage angst, one of the more original to date.