The Mark And The Void – Paul Murray (Penguin 2015)

The other day Robert over on 101Books (he’s busy reading his way through Time Magazine’s List of the greatest books of all time) prompted a discussion by asking his readers what is the funniest novel? Funnily enough, (gulp!) I’ve just finished reading a very strong contender for that title and it is a book which is due to be published within the next few weeks.  So following on from my previous Paul Murray review here is one that I’m sure you’ll going to be hearing a lot more about.


I was delighted to be chosen by Penguin to read Paul Murray’s  new novel for review purposes before publication. When I found out the set-up my heart sank- the educational institutions of “Skippy Dies” are part of my psyche so I felt an immediate attachment to it, the financial institutions that form the basis of “The Mark And The Void” leave me cold. I’ve got to my advanced age pretty much avoiding any books, films or television which deal with financial matters or are even set in offices. Perhaps the only related thing I have ever enjoyed is that moment in “Superman III” where Richard Pryor deposits all his fellow employees unrounded half-cents into his account! So it was with hesitancy but an open mind I began Murray’s book.

The Irish financial crisis has been responsible for at least one great novel already- Donal Ryan’s “The Spinning Heart”, one of the best books of this century (so far). That concentrates on the effects upon a small-town community. This book is even better and may very well be the Great Comic Novel of our time.

The narrator, Claude Martingale, a French analyst working in an Irish investment bank, is approached by Paul, looking for an Everyman for his new novel set in Dublin’s financial institutions . This news permeates through Claude’s workplace. This is a place where little exciting or “real” happens- a bank which “produces nothing tangible, which trades only ever in the virtual”, one of the factors for the economic collapse we all suffered.

It soon becomes apparent that Paul’s heart is not in his novel and that Claude at work is just “A Void. A Dead space” and that there is no story to be told. He has other plans in his shadowing of Claude. Murray doesn’t simplify matters, finance is a complicated subject but he makes it all understandable, plausible and, extraordinarily, very very funny. There’s a lot of “nothings” in this book; the bankers work with it, the writer produce it, Claude’s very life is it until he meets Paul. I may still have no idea what a hedge fund is (does anyone?) but I learnt a lot and my sheer enjoyment of this book is not diminished one iota by my economic stupidity. Within this there’s also Philosophy, Art and Literature and the role they have to play in the modern world where “the void” is so prevalent. This is a world where the nothingness has to be finely balanced, where banks can implode because of rumour, where the world of work sees “everyone completely oblivious to everyone else, eyes fixed instead on screens or on that empty point in mid-air where so much of life now takes place.”

I loved the characters in this book, Claude, the “Everyman” with little going for him, Paul, always hopeful he’ll find the next big thing before total destitution, whose literary career was stalled by one bad review, Ish, the female analyst of out place in a male dominated world because she believes in things rather than “nothings”, the boorish men who make up the majority of the workforce. It’s intelligent yet outrageous and Murray gets it just right. I felt with “Skippy Dies” that the book took a time to settle and that the author just crammed too much into it initially and that it was only after Skippy’s death is confirmed and we move away from the events leading up to his demise that the book really took off and we saw the true quality of the writing and the potential of this writer. I was with “The Mark And The Void” all the way. The pace never flags and it becomes funnier and funnier, which is some achievement in a comic novel. If Paul Murray can get me enjoying a book so much with this premise then he can write about absolutely anything. If Joseph Heller with “Catch 22” managed to make war funny (and I’m not entirely convinced he did) then Murray’s making us laugh at loud at Ireland’s financial crises is a comparable achievement.

This is the best book I have read this year and I am looking forward to seeing it appear on prize shortlists.


“The Mark And The Void” is published July 2015 by Penguin. Thanks to Netgalley for providing this copy for review.


Skippy Dies – Paul Murray (Penguin 2010)


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