The Times says Skippy Dies is a “carnival of a novel”. It says so on the cover.
And The Times is right: the nostalgic sweetness of fairy floss in your mouth, the heated competition of the sideshows, the risk of life on the rollercoasters, the contentedness of the ferris wheel and the fear of ghosts in the haunted house. It’s all there. And it never manages to seem too long, for all its 650 or so pages.
Fancy that – a story about a fatal donut-eating competition somehow managing to squeeze my heart. Skippy, the title character, dies within the first scene of the book, and then we move back from there, slipping into the minds and hearts of a jumble of different characters surrounding Skippy, as well as a little bit of Skippy himself (the book is not chronological, so he’s alive for most of it).
You may be thinking that I’m treating a schoolboy’s death rather lightheartedly. But this is what Skippy Dies does – it’s ticklish with humour in parts, which makes the sad parts distinctly sadder. It pushes you to be thoughtful. The writing is phenomenal. The kids seem to fare better than the adults when we’re first introduced – a lot of them have repressed desires that should probably not be mentioned much further on a family website like Boomerang Books, but I don’t think you’ll be offended if you read it. And you probably won’t ever look at Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Less Traveled’ the same again.
In parts, Skippy Dies reminds me of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz – it has that same ability to make us see the comedy in the tragedy. But there’s so much more I’m not telling you – and I can’t really pigeonhole it any more than I have. Suffice to say it takes place in and around an Irish Catholic School for Boys, and Skippy still manages to fall in love in spite of the odds.
Have I sold you yet?
This is a novel of life and death, of education and voiceless desires, heartbreak and first love, and the wormholes in the universe that connect them all. When I finished this book, I lay it down, and took the time to stare into space for a while – a little sad, and wondering about life and stuff. I said a prayer for Skippy, and hope that he’s happy, wherever he is.
Are you planning on reading Skippy Dies? Or have you already? What did you think of it?
Year of Publication: 2010.
Number of Pages: 672.
Book Challenges: The Complete Booker 2011 Challenge; Chunkster Challenge 2011.