THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION
Set at Seabrooke College (a Catholic boarding school in Dublin), Skippy Dies revolves around the death of Daniel “Skippy” Juster. It isn’t a murder mystery per se (after all, Skippy dies, on the floor of a donut shop, in the first few pages of the book.) Yet it is a mystery. Just exactly WHY does Skippy die?
The first part of the book takes place before Skippy’s death and introduces us to Skippy and his life at Seabrooke, where Skippy is one of a group of boarders. As the story develops, we get to know life at Seabrooke and get glimpses into the realities of Skippy’s life. (The boy is bearing many burdens that he keeps well hidden.) Then, just as we begin to grasp things, Skippy dies and aftermath of his death changes the lives of everyone around him—forcing them to look deep within to find their role in his death and the answers they need to keep on living.
This book was brilliant! It was my only 5 star read from 2011, and I just can’t describe to you why this book just rocked my world. However, I will do my best to give you sense of why this book works on so many levels.
Perhaps the reason the book came together for me is that the author manages to combine tragedy and comedy in a way that has you moving from snorts of laughter (just try not to laugh when cynical Dennis explains the “real” meaning of Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken or Mario discusses his lucky condom) to tears of anguish (Ruprecht’s reaction to Skippy’s death just broke my heart in a million pieces). To me, Murray managed to get the world of the 14-year-old boy spot-on—with its sense of possibility and innocence mixed with the first dawnings of harsh reality and heartbreak. The boys at Seabrooke College will tug at your heartstrings while also making you turn away in disgust.
Balancing out the life of the boys is the experiences of their teacher, Howard Fallon (who was once a Seabrooke boy himself). In some ways, Howard represents the future of the boys we’re coming to know—the harshness of the “real” world where you might get the girl but then grow tired of her annoying habits and the sheer dreariness of living day after day with the same person. Add in a past you cannot seem to shake and the horror of ruthless, ambitious men like The Automator, and you wonder if perhaps Skippy is the lucky one to depart life so early.
This book captured what it feels like to be on the cusp of the “real” world while also reminding us of what the real world feels like when you’ve been in it for a while. The charm of the boys and their exploits captured my imagination and heart. Like Ruprecht, I mourned for Skippy. In many ways, Skippy represents the death of innocence. As the aftermath of his death leaves the main characters grasping for meaning and a way out of the darkness that his death reveals, I found myself journeying with them.
I’m struggling to capture for you what the book is like as it is often a big sprawling mess of a thing that may require some time to fall into its rhythms. When I first started it, I was unsure about it … if I was “getting” it. But Murray does a brilliant job of weaving a rich and multi-colored tapestry of a story. At first, all the threads feels disconnected and loose, but as the story develops, it comes together in a tightly woven, connected whole and it is breath-taking.
About the Narration
I listened to this book on audio and I’m so glad I did as I’m convinced that the brilliance of the narration is what put this over the top for me. This was the first time I listened to an audiobook that was narrated by multiple readers. (There is a primary narrator who “reads” the book and then different voices for each of the primary characters.) It was like listening to a play in many ways. By having a wide range of Irish actors and actresses play the various roles, the book came alive for me in a way that an audiobook hasn’t quite done before. The voice for The Automator was dead-on, and I came to love Dennis and Ruprecht’s voices as well. The sultry voice of Ms. McIntyre (the teacher who captures Howard’s imagination) was filled with all kinds of flirty knowingness that made you see exactly why he was enchanted by her. Whoever cast the book was a genius. For a long listen (20+ hours), I think it might have gotten to be too much if it was just one reader. Yet I found myself mesmerized by the book. I couldn’t wait to get back to it. This is one book where I would definitely recommend the audio experience if you can get it. It elevated a brilliant novel into something more special.
Really dark comedy
The narrator(s) were FANTASTIC! They really made the story come to life.
Getting to hear all the different voices narrating the different characters really brought the story to life. If I were to just read the story, I would have never used any of the accent.
Skippy. It was really gripping to hear how badly he wanted to be accepted and wanted to be noticed.
Wonderful listen. The narrators really brought the story to life.
Some complained about the length of the book, but for me that feeling only lasted through part I, which I felt dragged a bit. The performances added much to the experience of the novel, given that the various accents (Irish old men, Mario, Miss MacIntyre, etc) were well done and enriched the text. Actually, Mario's narrator made him into a rather Fez-like character from That 70s Show, which wasn't a bad thing.
Negatives: Because of the way the author played with sequence, I didn't find myself unfulfilled by certain glitches in the plot until the end, when I was sure they would never be resolved. SPOILER ALERT (skip the rest of this paragraph if you like): I had a hard time with the following: Where did Skippy get so many of the sedatives? Wouldn't the police have traced that? Did he OD on purpose or not? The police would surely have been more involved in the story behind his death. Also, the very last portion of the book containing the redemption moments fell flat for me; Lori becomes a real person and convinces Ruprecht to live on and be fulfilled? She's going to "help" him? Carl is redeemed somewhat by trying to allow himself to die as pennance? No, really, he's just schizophrenic, right? And finally, Howard is redeemed in the eyes of the school -- no longer a coward -- for running into a burning building to save Carl? Hmm. Don't think so. Still, the lack of real closure on some of these characters didn't hurt the integrity of the novel any more than such failures ever do... I find many of my favorite books a little unsatisfying to me at the end. END SPOILER
Good things: Some real comedy intertwined in the horrors (Greg the Automater, in particular). Excellent portrayals of the crazy world of young boys (and girls) and how they torture and love each other. Satisfying emotional content, and some historical learning material, too. I have no reference point for parochial schools and the sexual frustration borne out of single-gendered environments, but I think it was painted well here. I also think the handling of the characters who considered or perpetrated sexual abuse was nuanced and interesting. In fact, the real villains here were not the those men at all, as it turned out...
The whole cast of characters are excellent. I could picture them all.
Dennis & Mario crack me up. There are so many... there is no way to point out just one.
The characters are well developed by the author.... So many scenes, so little time. What can I say?
You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wince... and you won't want it to end.
The only reason I thought about listening to this book is because I recently had a dog name Skippy who I had to put down. I thought it was about a dog... but read a review and became intrigued. I am so glad I did. This is one of the best books I've ever listened to. Thank you Paul Murray. I want more.
I love a book with creative, but not treacle or predictible, prose -- and Skippy Dies delivers in droves. Just a joy to listen to.
As other commenters have noted, you don't need to be, or have been, a teenage boy in Ireland to feel simpatico with the characters. They drew you in, though ironically, Skippy was amongst the last fleshed out.
Multiple narrators; worked really well.
Definitely laughed. Killing off the main character in the beginning pages (not to mention the title page) undercuts the crying option. One of the best novels I've listened to in a long time.
I pretty much listen to all my books (not much left eye-wise once work is done), but this book is clearly better due to the narration -- love those Irish accents.
This tale of Irish boarding school and midlife crises suffers a crisis of its own. Like the students and teachers, it meanders, touches on flashes of interest of brilliance but is mired mostly in the 20 something character cast and the multiple mini dramas surrounding this cast. Skippy, the main character to the untrained eye, is actually not particularly fleshed out, nor is his death well explained. I found parts two and three to be more engaging (the first few hours were about as dull as school as) but it is overall not a cant stop listening book. The voice actors did their very best with fairly trite material, and the multiple actors really saved this one from being completely impossible to follow.
Lover of history, travel, and MP3 players (to distract me from things I'd really rather not have to do)!
I admit, I was one listener who almost gave up at the beginning. The drug dealing scenes were so unpleasant to me - a high school teacher living in denial about how teens really live and think ;-) - that I was wondering what could come up that would make it worth my time to continue.
But once we were really introduced to Skippy and his pals, I had my answer: the characterizations. I don't mean the narrations - which were fine though not remarkable in my mind - but the characters the author developed, both kids and adults. Murray's subtlety, his way of dropping crumbs of detail along with the big chunks of action and dialog, is what builds the bonds between reader and character, to the point that we even care about the ones we are repulsed by. The story itself was good, but in the end it was just a vehicle for introducing us to a world of people and perspectives that I, for one, would never otherwise experience.
Funny and quirky, this story engages from the very beginnig.
The cast of narrators all were excellent.
The author did a great job capturing the pathos of adolescence as well as the older characters.
This book is not easy. It's a long story that starts at the end and slowly unfolds the events that have caused the characters actions or lack of action. Through this, we come to understand the characters and why they do and respond in the way that they do. Many of the topics that are addressed are straight out of the current news. I found that I looked at the stories differently after this book. Not many books can do that.
This book is long, 3 sections. I did not like this book in the first section. I thought it was shallow. I stuck with it and by the end thought it was the greatest novel of the last 10 years. Some of the characters are disturbing, some annoying and some pitiful. By the end I could see why they ended up that way. It shows how past events can send out ripples that effect the future. This book will stay with me.
I would have preferred not to delved into the lives of 14 year old boys with such detail. As a mother of soon to be 14 year old's I found it WAY to much info and not a mystery at all which is what I actually thought the book was. It is beautifully written but I am not the intended audience.
Nope, while his story was worth reading it's not the right genre for me and I have no idea how I ended up purchasing this book (again a really well written story) but totally not my genre.
I thought the end of the book was great and well thought out but the entire book is well thought out.
nope, I think they cover it all. some of the character could be books in and of themselves like Ruprect who I found interesting but not a sequel more of another stand alone book like Enders Shadow.