Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies is a tragicomic masterpiece about a Dublin boarding school. Long listed for the Man Booker Prize 2010 Ruprecht Van Doren is an overweight genius whose hobbies include very difficult maths and the Search of 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.
The whole book is centred on a group of teenage boys, one of whom dies within the first few pages. However, this is not the last we read about this character as the book covers events leading up to the moment of his death. Teenage boys are a totally different species to any walking the earth and the Author manages to catch their peculiarities perfectly in his character building. He covers all those one would meet at a boarding school from the bookish to priests to parents, bullies and beyond; he then brings them to life and throws them into a story that grabs the reader from the very first. The Author is able to capture their adolescent humour, their obvious obsession with anything remotely female (this being an all boy’s school) and set it down in a way that appeals to all readers. Each of the characters is written skilfully, pulling on the different personality and traits that can be found in a variety of guises in this age group. As a parent myself I remember my own son going through his teenage years and I picked him out of the crowd with no difficulty, along with a bevy of his ‘associates’. The Author has managed to capture the classroom antics, attitude towards the teachers and classmate banter so well that there is no character that stands out from the others as the main protagonist; not even ‘Skippy’
This is by no means a ‘Lord of the Flies’ type book, and I would defy anyone not to be caught up in the humour of everything in this easy read. Despite there being a huge number of characters, major themes and plot points the Author is able to juggle them all seamlessly and well. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who is looking for a light and humourous read.