Book Review: Skippy Dies by Paul Murray
December 27, 2011 33 Comments
At a Dutch bookfair I entered a competition to win Skippy Dies. I had to answer one question: How many calories are there in the 12 donuts that are on the cake stand on display? My guess was something like 2747 calories, which is a ridiculous amount because it’s not divisible by 12! But anyway, a few days later I got the book from the postman because my answer was one of the 10 best!
The Dutch hardback copy was enormous! What a tome! But a very enjoyable book.
Skippy Dies: What It Is About
The title says it all: Skippy dies. Skippy dies on page 12 already (in a donut shop, hence the donut competition). The rest of the book mainly tells the story of the events leading up to Skippy’s death, but there are also about 200 pages to describe what happened after he died.
The main characters are Daniel “Skippy” Juster and Howard Fallon, the latter a teacher at Seabrook, the school where Skippy boards. Howard’s nickname is Howard the Coward, because of an event that is explained much later in the book.
Skippy is about 14 years old and shares his room with a real nerd, Ruprecht van Doren, who carries out all kinds of physics experiments, endangering his own life and that of his friends. Skippy is not a populair guy either. At some point he gets involved with the girlfriend of Carl, a class mate of heavy caliber, and Skippy is now in real trouble. The relationship of Carl and the girl, Lori, consisted mainly of the giving and receiving of tranquillisers that can be used as diet pills.
Howard, the teacher, doesn’t enjoy his job. When a pretty temporary teacher gives him some suggestions as to how to improve his lessons, his job become more interesting but the lessons no longer fall within the curriculum of the school. Howard used to be a pupil at this school himself, that is managed by religious Fathers. He still knows a few people from the old days, former class mates or teachers, who are still there now. This makes him feel as if he never grew up, as if he never escaped secondary school.
Really the problems of Skippy and Howard are not that different. Howard is the adult, but still struggles with similar issues as Skippy. As we know, Skippy’s fate is sealed, but for the rest of the characters things don’t end particularly well either.
Skippy Dies: What I Thought
A beautiful book, but a bit too long. Eventually all the elements of the story come together and maybe there isn’t all that much that could be left out of the story, but half-way through the book I found it becoming a bit much. A lot happens, there are a lot of characters (that I couldn’t all keep apart for a long time), but why do I need to know all this?
The eventual story, when it all comes together is dramatic, educational and unpleasant.
During the story I started to care about Skippy and wished that his life would become a little easier to handle for him. But oh no! He was going to die! It was rather unimaginable that this friendly, insecure, in-love Skippy would kick the bucket. But of course he did, and after that, the story falls a bit apart for me.
Skippy is no longer, but Howard, who is doing less well in the meantime, still carries part of the story. In addition, Ruprecht, Skippy’s room mate, goes crazy after Skippy’s death (which happened in his presence), and there are other, less prominent, characters that take some of the limelight.
But because several revelations are made, the book is still fun to read. And still new things are happening.
A really nice book with recognisable teenage issues, and also a few of which you hope that they will not happen to your own teenagers.
I got this book: won it at a book fair from the publishers
I read this in: Dutch, the original language is English
Number of pages: 664
First published: 2011 (Dutch, English edition Skippy Dies published 2010)
Genre: contemporary fiction, coming of age