If comedy is tragedy…

March 19, 2010 at 7:30 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment

Paul Murray ‘Skippy Dies’ Hamish Hamilton, February 2010

I read an article with Paul Murray in which he said he finds writing difficult at the best of times….I’m afraid that this novel betrays that sentiment entirely Mr Murray!  ‘Skippy Dies’ is exemplary fiction.  It is a whopping novel at six hundred and sixty one pages but the turn of each page reflects fluid and very accomplished storytelling. Bravo to its publisher Hamish Hamilton (Penguin Books) who bravely published the novel divided into three separate books (called Hopeland, Heartland and Ghostland) in a beautiful slipcase. Paul Murray’s last novel ‘An Evening of Long Goodbyes’ was published back in 2003 and was shortlisted for the Whitbread prize.

The title of this novel opens the first scene where Skippy, a border at Seabrook College for boys in Dublin, dies in a doughnut eating race with his roommate. ‘Skippy Dies’ hosts a range of characters but the main protagonists are Skippy a very gentle  and quiet boy, his roommate, Ruprecht Van Doren, a grossly overweight genius who is singlehandedly raising the GPA of every other student at Seabrook and their somewhat ill-fated History teacher ‘Howard the Coward’.

Skippy dies is highly accomplished. What makes it different from other fiction books out there? It’s the fact that Murray interweaves and uses to great effect seemingly opposing philosophical, scientific and mythological ideas in the story. He effortlessly fuses the magic of Irish folklore with science as if folklore was a way all along to explain unexplainable scientific theories like ‘M Theory’ and String Theory. He uses cosmology as a way to illustrate the beauty of human endeavours and as an antithesis to human behaviour with a potent and lyrical effect.

There is great comic timing in this novel.  I never saw myself chuckling at the foul mouthed and sex driven antics of school boys but I did frequently and often when reading it. However it’s these same characters that take you to the dark side of life also and you’ll find yourself willingly going there with them.  The twists and turns of their young lives set up a plot with a vast range facilitating the exploration of ideas and many dark subjects such as bereavement, domestic violence, abuse and self harm. These are subjects that cannot be simply touched upon and Murray’s novel commits itself to their investigation through his characters development.

Finishing each book you begin to ask more and more just why Skippy dies….and the answer is just as intricate and fascinating as the title implies. It’s like tripping into the light fantastic with these characters whose life lessons and beginnings of self awareness, which are often so witty, take you to some very dark places.  If comedy is truly tragedy Paul Murray has hit the nail on the head with this novel.

Skippy Dies in Haiku; M and String Theory, sex  schoolboys donught eating, greatly accomplished

Click here to view this book on Amazon.com

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