On the front cover, Jess Walter is quoted as saying that this book is “the Moby-Dick of Irish prep schools.” Though I’ve read all 661 pages of this book and all of the Melville (okay, maybe I didn’t read all of the intervening chapters), I still have no idea what this means. Are there that many other books about Irish prep schools?
Skippy Dies is sprawling and ambitious, perhaps a bit more leaned in the direction of the young protagonists (Skippy, Ruprecht et all) than the teacher (Howard), but perhaps I just identified more with the teacher. One wonders about how Murray planned all of this. There are doughnuts, druids, physics, the French Horn, World War I, etc.. I could track all of it, except perhaps some of the physics, but detailed background knowledge wasn’t necessary. There are, in every aspect of this book, two worlds, and characters are constantly, and in all sorts of creative and desperate ways trying to move from one to the other. They finally stop when, somewhat conveniently, one character, not really known for her academic prowess, remembers something she learned about French poetry. She quotes Paul Eluard: “There is another world, but it is in this one.”
On her own, she then comes to the (again, somewhat too profound) conclusion that . . .”it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they all were part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion different pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in a life is try and weave it back together, my story into your story, our stories into all the other people’s we know, until you’ve got something that to god or whoever might look like a letter or even a whole word” (654). Then she takes a meaningful bite of a doughnut, a treat is prominent here as it is in Olive Kitteridge.
Murray writes well, though he gets a bit over the top at times. He is able to effectively articulate his insights into the male mind as well as the inner workings of a prep school.
Good stuff, if a bit long.