The extravagantly entertaining Skippy Dies chronicles a single catastrophic autumn at Seabrook from a good 20 different perspectives: students, teachers, administrators, priests, girlfriends, doughnut shop managers. At the center of it all is Daniel Juster, known as Skippy, whose death — on the floor of Ed’s Doughnut House, just after writing his beloved’s name on the floor in raspberry filling — opens the novel … The ambitious length of Skippy Dies allows Murray to take on any number of fascinating themes. One of the great pleasures of this novel is how confidently he addresses such disparate topics as quantum physics, video games, early-20th-century mysticism, celebrity infatuation, drug dealing, Irish folklore and pornography … Murray confidently brings these strands together, knitting them into an energetic plot that concerns Skippy’s death — and his roommates’ attempts to contact him afterward — but also expands into an elegy for lost youth.
Skippy Dies is a deeply funny book. Murray's sense of humor is gleefully absurd, but indisputably intelligent; there's not a single cheap laugh in these pages. And while he mines a good deal of hilarious material from Skippy's infatuation and Ruprecht's social obliviousness, Murray is at his funniest when his teeth are bared … Reading Skippy Dies is a lot like reading a Saki story as interpreted by Neil Jordan (who is scheduled to write and direct the film adaptation of this novel) — which is to say, it's deeply funny, deeply weird and unlike anything you've ever encountered before.
Set in Ireland at the Seabrook Catholic School for Boys, the book features a cast of fourteen-year-olds who have populated classrooms for centuries. And yet as rendered by Murray's skillful, compassionate prose, each of these characters emerges as an actual boy—sympathetic at times, contemptible at others, funny, terrifying, loving, and real to the reader … Interestingly enough, the antics of other characters often overshadow Skippy all together, which perhaps is the point of the book—that unremarkable children are overshadowed by the smartest or dumbest or funniest or meanest or ugliest or most handsome, sometimes even overshadowed out of existence. Skippy Dies is 600 pages, and the supposedly driving question of the first 400 pages seems to be: Who killed Skippy?
Skippy Dies is an epic crafted around, of all things, a pack of 14-year-old boys. It's the Moby-Dick of Irish prep schools … The mixture of tones is the book's true triumph, oscillating the banal with the sublime, the silly with the terrifying, the sweet with the tragic. In short, it's like childhood. In shorter, like life. The book's refrain — that we never really outgrow being lovesick, awkward, bullying children — isn't exactly breaking news, but it's never been truer. As one teacher says in the staff room, ‘The twenty-first century is the age of the kidult’ … Skippy Dies rips along for such a big book, the tension building as we work back up to the boy's death.
Too busy to be stopped in its tracks by any one calamity, Skippy Dies happens to be obsessed with M-theory, lost youth, Irish history and parallel dimensions, not to mention sex, drugs and schoolboy humor. Thus Skippy’s death is better understood as a disappearance, leaving his brighter classmates to wonder where exactly he has gone. In a book that both begins and ends with the eating of doughnuts (and has one character nicknamed for a Frisbee), the idea that death is somehow circular is no accident … Mr. Murray’s elaborate aims are most fully realized in the long Halloween party that concludes the first third of his book. Spooky things happen on that night, and not just because Halloween is an otherworldly occasion … But it takes Mr. Murray hundreds of pages’ worth of ho-hum Seabrook ambience to get where he’s going. And plain old three-dimensional, ghost-free Seabrook can be numbing.
Skippy's collapse doesn't appear where you think it will chronologically, and Murray takes the time to explore the aftermath. There is tenderness, too, and heartache and real pain. Ruprecht even uses string theory to prove that the universe might literally be ‘built out of loneliness,’ which is exactly what adolescence feels like. Is a 661-page boarding-school comedy, no matter how funny or touching, rather too much of a good thing? Perhaps here and there, but for the most part, Skippy Dies is so appealing and surprising that the pages pass with ease.
The novel's most appealing and artful achievement is the small circle of second-year students around Skippy. Perpetually quarreling, sardonic and mutually suspicious, and portrayed with a comically aching individuality, they are held together by a frail, us-against-the-world loyalty. It is a thing of time and circumstance; one of Murray's achievements is to evoke the mournfully short-lived nature of adolescent forevers … The climax generates a lot less flame than many of the passages — by turns comic, shrewd and sometimes profoundly affecting — in Murray's portraits of students and teachers.
In six pages, Murray creates an entire world of teen angst, sophomoric humor, social satire and existential despair. After the prologue, Murray jumps back to chronicle the events leading up to the gluttonous showdown at Ed's Doughnut House, before employing the final third of this deeply engaging novel to detail the aftermath of Skippy's demise … Murray does an exemplary job of capturing the voices of Skippy and his compatriots - the dirty jokes, the cruel nicknames, the endless speculation about sex and the other presumed perks of adulthood. The boys are continuously funny, annoying and heartbreakingly naive. The grown-ups range from well-meaning yet feckless to outright sadistic ... one of the most enjoyable books of the year.
Murray has created a marvelously rich narrative and a beautifully written environment for all these flawed and damaged individuals to exist around the sudden death of young Skippy. All the charms and annoyances of adolescent life have been captured perfectly in classic tragic-comedy tradition … An intelligent and entertaining book that, despite its great length, makes this reader wish that its conclusion had not come around so soon.
Hailed as a comic novel, it attains an almost magical balance with the tragic, too. Set at the fictional, 140-year-old Seabrook School, its darkness goes very deep, with bits of nasty self-injury and racist cruelty … The story unfurls in a tight six weeks between Skippy's untimely November demise and the acting principal's Christmas message. It alone is a fey comic masterpiece of fake sincerity, puerile ambition and gimcrack jive.
It’s impossible not to love these boys who think they’ve transported an action figure through time and space. They cling so endearingly to the belief that they’re on the verge of outsmarting the universe, probably because the universe, in all other aspects of their life, seems to have it in for them … The dorm and classroom scenes where the boys jostle and banter and play video games and light farts on fire show them at their most boyish, but within these scenes you see their loyalty and perspicacity towards each other, and their righteous outrage at being wronged. You see them already becoming adults. Unfortunately, the adults of Murray’s world don’t do much credit to the stature.
Skippy Dies is a soaring ode to teenage dreams, every paradise and nightmare, and far and away the best book I’ve read in years. In constructing the world of Dublin’s Seabrook College for Boys, Murray has created a universe as rich and vibrant as any imaginary boarding school, but laced with a tart humor and bawdiness … [Murray] has a uncanny ability to communicate the language of adolescence rage, lust, disappointment, and despair, and as we hurtle toward the novel’s ending, he allows these voices to layer and crash into each other, creating a massive confusion and dissonance … Skippy Dies proves to be both suffused with regret and, quite surprisingly, great humor and hope. Seabrook is not solely the story of Skippy and his untimely end, but instead a series of voices, of wishes, of dreams.
Murray wanders confidently through the torments of the adolescent imagination, and he delivers a rollicking tale worthy of a Stephen Dedalus—but a lot more comprehensible. Long and impossibly involved, but also beautifully written, with much truth and not a wasted word. A superb imagining of a strange world—that of pimply-faced kids, that is. Alternate universes, too.
With dark humor, Murray examines adolescent sexuality in an age of texting, video games, and the casual use of pharmaceuticals. Murray nails the banter of junior high, the nuance of middle-age yearning, and the excitement of string theory, and shows mastery in weaving disparate elements into a cohesive and engaging narrative. This is one of the darkest and funniest novels in recent memory.