Saturday, January 22, 2011

Back to School

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, is perhaps the funniest, and the darkest, book I have read in a long time.  The wit and the spark made me read the book late into some nights.  I am surprised this book did not win the Booker; in fact was not even short listed.  Me thinks political compulsions crept into this decision.

The book is set in Ireland, in a boarding school for boys run by Catholic priests.  ( Much like the school I went to, and perhaps which is what drew me into the book).  The story line  of a teacher and that of some  boys runs in parallel, each fighting their demons.  The constant to and fro in the story lines is mesmerizing, and could have led to confusion, but the straight lines of the story keeps them from entangling.   

The author has admirably captured the travails and tribulations of the teenage years, and I found myself frequently remembering my difficult years. The teacher's problems are something else though, and as he comes to terms with a disintegrating relationship, catalysed by a colleague.  One of the memorable lines from Chapter 1: But she doesn't move, and neither does he: she holds him there a moment purely by the light of her spectacular eyes, looking at him over with the tip of her tongue tucked in the corner of her mouth, as if she is deciding what to have for dinner.  Then, smiling at him coyly with a row of pointed white teeth she says, ' You know, I'm not going to sleep with you'.

Although Skippy, as a central  character in the book, does grab your attention, it was his best friend, Ruprecht, who holds mine.  As the plot evolves, it turns out to be a coming of age story for both Ruprecht, and Howard, the teacher, with a melancholy overture of loss and regret.  Each then seeks redemption in their own way, with both ways flying in the face of convention. All this is captured in perhaps one of the most spell binding finale' I have ever read. In the end does the old school continue the way it always did?  Leave it to you to find out.

 If you have one book to read this year, read this one.

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