All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray, is a funny and tragic novel that begins with the death of Daniel “Skippy” Juster, who collapses at the local doughnut shop. Juster is a student at Seabrook College, a Catholic boarding school for boys in Dublin. What follows is a meaty, multi-faceted story of grief and deceit.

It’s important to know that Skippy Dies is funny--a poignant reminder of school days, close friendships, exclusive cliques, cruel pranks, and bathroom humor. But Murray also illuminates the darker side of youth, with its loss of innocence, its dawning realization that parents and teachers are flawed human beings, and its “Lord of the Flies” rule through intimidation. Murray does more than show us how these children relate to each other. He shows us how the grown-ups live in their own “Lord of the Flies” world, with their own doubts, bravado, and tactical maneuvering so similar to the children they teach. They may not give each other toilet “swirlies,” but physical violence isn’t out of the range of possibilities. The administration and teachers at Seabrook, and most notably Howard (“Howard the Coward”) the history teacher and an alumnus of the school, are the central figures here, although parents occasionally feature in the interactions.

Murray's writing is funny and lyrical.  He describes one of the school's teachers as wearing "an eye-searing, headache-inducing houndstooth" with "shaggy eyebrows that bristle from his forehead like two Yetis about to hurl themselves from a cliff."  He spends great swaths of narrative that is dedicated to Ruprecht, Skippy's roommate, describing the time and space conundrums which obsess Ruprecht, a student whose grades alone bring up the average for the entire class year. 

Readers will quickly see how grief damages the characters, with Skippy’s demise being the trigger point. Another pervasive theme is deceit, from how the school handles Skippy’s death and the events that led up to it to how nations (and in this case Ireland), persuade their citizens to go to war to achieve objectives that may not be those touted as the rallying cry. There are many real-life issues in this book—poverty, sexual abuse by an authority figure, drug abuse, alcoholism, illness—and most of his characters find a way to cope. Some are successful.

Skippy Dies was published by Faber and Faber in 2010. It was shortlisted for the Costa Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2010.  The paperback version of Skippy Dies is scheduled for release on August 30. 

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