There seems to be a lot of very good quality writing coming out of Ireland in recent years. I have featured Donal Ryan’s debut as one of my 1oo Essential books and I really enjoyed the recently published “I Am In Blood” written by Joe Murphy and reviewed here back in April. This novel, Paul Murray’s second and published seven years after his debut “An Evening Of Long Goodbyes” (which I haven’t read) is another winner.
Set in an Irish boarding school this is a long, dense book. I must confess that I was one of the legions of readers who picked this up and thought “Bush Kangaroo” but Skippy here is a pupil, nicknamed because of an overbite, who does indeed, spoiler alert, die. I think this book does take a while to settle down, because Murray puts so much into it. It initially feels a little like it is all over the place as he introduces the characters- the staff and pupils at Seabrook and the neighbouring girls school St Brigid. I was aware that the book was struggling to stamp its identity but black humour is quite prevalent, often with a very brittle edge.
Sex, drugs, school politics, bullying and violence all rear their ugly heads but once Skippy’s death (which does occur early on but is then backtracked to events leading up to it) is confirmed the themes become more focused and the writing becomes very impressive. All teenage life is here, so it is not always a pleasant read. From bad kids to nerds, we range from those only motivated by the sale of drugs and prospect of sex to those who are experimenting with time travel. It is often offensive (I do struggle with such frequent use of the word “gay” as a term of abuse – I know teenagers do it but it jars). It is both tragic and comic and it cannot be rushed as there is so much in it and I think for many readers there will be sections that do not work as well (for me it was the drug pushing) but ultimately Murray’s ability at throwing everything into his school themed book works and you have left with the impression that you have completed some novel. This is a writer with a vast amount of potential.
I am currently reading for review Murray’s much-anticipated new novel “The Mark And The Void” (published in July) and my verdict on this will be on here very soon.
Skippy Dies was published by Penguin in 2010