This is the second time I've done a group read, and as with the first, I find myself sitting here, staring at the screen, entirely unsure what I want to write. I liked Skippy Dies
, but I didn't love it. Having no idea what it was about before starting it, this book frequently took veers in directions I'd never expected.
It's several months in the life of a boys' public school in Ireland. It is nothing like Harry Potter. It is chockablock with early teen angst and cruelty, and the particular vagaries of that age of life, which are so easily forgotten when the headiness of later adolescence closes in. And everyone's story is the most important story to them, and yet, we discover how different those stories are, and how stories are covered up and papered over, and different narratives installed in their place to make things seem neat and tidy and explainable to a board of investors and a bunch of angry parents.
We see how the adults in this world make moral compromises that have a direct impact on their charges, all in the name of not shaking the boat. We see how the adults have already made those compromises in their own lives, and how they live (or don't) with the questionable decisions they've made. We see how the boys are sex-obsessed, juvenile, serious, hilarious, earnest, cynical, and how they negotiate the nearness of the girls' school next door, the somewhat unlikeable scientist in their midst, and how utterly unprepared they are for having to deal with the realities of sex and drugs - and how they shouldn't have to be.
But what shouldn't be isn't necessarily what is. These kids are often mean to each other. In subtle ways, in overt ways. They walk through a land of cruelty, but are protected, to some degree, by the friends around them. As they should be by the adults around them.
Skippy is the roommate of the boy scientist, Ruprecht, who is obsessed with the multiverse string theory. Skippy dies. That's in the title. It's also in the first chapter. And then Paul Murray weaves backwards to show the roots, and forward to show the impact. We see how the school deals with the death, on an administrative level. (Badly, and with more thought for the net value of the school than for the students).
This is making this all sound more dour than it actually is. Skippy Dies
is frequently very funny, even if most of the jokes are of the 13-year-old bodily fluid type. But what held my attention most was the parallel that was drawn between what happens at the school, and the sacrifice of young men in war, often fruitlessly, and how their stories are manipulated for public consumption at the particular time or place. It's what happens here.
And Paul Murray avoids an easy solution. The adults fail the children, here. There is no simple escape hatch that makes it okay.