Skippy Dies in the first chapter of this book, as promised, and the rest of the book is devoted to what led to the death of the 14-year old Irish boarding school student, and the consequences of his death. We are in for a dark story of a world where the boys are mostly ignored by their parents, misunderstood or bullied (or worse!) by the teachers, and generally left to their own devices, which could work fine, I suppose, if all of them were like Skippy or his brainy roommate, but of course there are a few troublemakers who make life very difficult for the others.
There are some beautifully captured moments, including the fascination of the teenagers for a comely female substitute teacher and the besottedness of the history teacher for that same sub. The machinations of the ambitious principal and the politics of the school are also described in exquisite horror. But there are 661 pages in the book, and the action cannot fill anywhere near 661 pages so we suffer through painful teenage text messages and the like. Also, those texting adolescents with Internet access seem terrifyingly ignorant of the facts of life, even if we’d like to think that Irish boarding schools are somehow sheltered from them
Dublin—and his friends Ruprecht, a near genius who is passionately interested in string theory; Mario, a self-styled lothario; and Dennis, the resident cynic. We also meet the girl with whom Skippy is hopelessly in love, Lori, and his bête noire, Carl, a drug-dealing, psychopathic fellow student who is also in love with Lori. The faculty have their innings, too, especially the history teacher Howard (the Coward) Fallon, who has also fallen in love—he with the alluring substitute teacher Miss McIntyre. And then there is the truly dreadful assistant principal, Greg Costigan. In this darkly comic novel of adolescence (in some cases arrested), we also learn about the unexpected consequences of Skippy’s death, something of contemporary Irish life, and a great deal about the intersections of science and metaphysics and the ineluctable interconnectedness of the past and the present. At 672 pages, this is an extremely ambitious and complex novel, filled with parallels, with sometimes recondite references to Irish folklore, with quantum physics, and with much more. Hilarious, haunting, and heartbreaking, it is inarguably among the most memorable novels of the year to date.