There is no mystery regarding the fate of the main character in Paul Murray’s second novel, Skippy Dies. Skippy (Daniel Juster to his parents), is a 14 year-old dreamer, MMRPG addict and boarder at Seabrook College for Boys, a private Catholic boarding school in Dublin. Inside the first 5 pages of the book, Skippy, er, dies.
Having first described (in lurid, technicolor detail) the death scene of the young teenager, the rest of Skippy Dies is structured around the back-story and consequences of Skippy’s spectacular demise.
For a 600+ page post-modern comic novel, which leaps between multiple narrators and encompasses multiverse theory, early 20th century esotericism, video games, the Decline of the Catholic Church in Ireland, teenage love, the 2008 financial crisis and the poetry of Robert Graves, Skippy Dies hangs together remarkably well.
I found it, by moments, deeply funny, and despite the disjointed narrative, you grow to deeply care for the characters.
Ruprecht van Doren, for example, is a true 21st Century original: Skippy’s obese room-mate and Seabrook’s resident genius, he spends his days munching through doughnuts, building devices in the school basement for multi-dimensional travel and dreaming of the day when he will be taken up unto Stanford to work alongside the World-Famous Physicist Hideo Tamashi.
Father Green, the school’s French teacher, is in search of some kind of redemption for past sins – despite his formidable classroom reputation – while Howard, (the principal adult voice in the novel), is a failed stockbroker who tries to teach history to uninterested adolescents while struggling with his own twentysomething mid-life crisis.
Paul Murray deserves particular respect for finding authentic voices for his teenage characters. He manages to illustrate their worldview – distracted, hormonal and video-and-internet-infused – without ever slipping up. The dialogue is never overwritten. His teenagers are by turns cruel, confused and cocksure, and never sound fake.
Likewise, the occasional transition into second-person narrative – a risky device at the best of times – feels natural and unforced, and works well to expresses that certain self-centredness that is perhaps a necessary part of adolescence.
Skippy Dies is Irish, ironic, immensely good fun, and contains the Best High School Halloween Disco Scene in the History of Literature. A novel on this scale could have easily choked on its own pink frosting, but this book works well. Really, really well.