The Birdcage Archives

Saturday 18 September 2010

Skippy Dies by Paul Murray

Hello Gentle Reader

I have been sick for past few days. With a nasty cold. When I cough, something fly’s up my throat, and into my mouth. I spit it out, and there, in, the sink is a green blob of infectious or infected mucous that looks back at me. I can't help but turn the hot water on, and watch go down the drain. Makes me wonder what kind of war, is going on inside of my body. But to my relief, of being sick, and barely having the energy to eat -- seeing as my throat gets so soar -- and barely wanting to do anything at all, I found myself, reading and sleeping most of the time. In this time though I was able to read the six hundred and sixty page novel in three volumes called "Skippy Dies," by Paul Murray.

A comedic yet tragic novel, of growing up, and the growing pains of growing up, the novel certainly is something of extraordinary feats. The depiction of the mundane life, of the students, and even the teachers. The idea that even though we all had dreams at one point, sometimes our lives take the complete opposite direction then the one that we had hoped for. I mean honestly who would really want to become a teacher, and go back to their own school, and teach there? Who really wants to remain in the past, even in the present? Not many would say that, that is what they had planned for their life. Living in a suburb, that's power goes out because someone is building a science park next door, and then to go teach at the same all boys school that is falling apart, and your haunted by past events, and the nameless past nicknames.

The story really does show the inner life of school boys, and what really goes on in their minds. Obsessed with sex, and their own personal problems, and trying to act tough and cool, yet what lurks beneath them all is emotional problems, and real tender people, who are open to blows and attacks from others.

Throughout the story we are given a look inside the large ensemble of characters. We see how each one is connected to the other in some way or another. Howard the history teacher is connected to the boys, on the grounds that he used to go Seabrook, and knows all too well, the politics of the school, as well as what it means to go to the school. If going to the school means anything, at all.

The novel, is an interesting story. As I sit here, trying to explain it to myself, I find myself unable to. In fact to say that Daniel “Skippy,” Juster was the main character feels a bit like a stretch. I mean he was the main character, but he never did seem to say much about anything. In fact, his unknown malaise to us, and his inability to connect with others, appears to come from his father, and family, who appear to be people emotionally cut off from each other, in order to keep up the fa├žade that they are a good old happy family. When in reality that they are not, when the mother is dying of cancer. A poison that is raving her body from head to toe.

The scientific theory called “M-Theory,” plays a part in the novel as well, from the plump pudgy character and questionable genius Ruprecht Van Doren, who is a friend and roommate of Daniel “Skippy,” Juster. The “M-Theory,” is a way that for me or in my observation, that Ruprecht can feel special or hope that there is another universe in which he can be respected in. Yet it appears, that Ruprecht logical mind is put to the test when grief, is placed on his platter, and he is forced deal with Skippy’s death. When everything is suddenly turned away and around Ruprecht will try and contact Skippy and use the “M-Theory,” as justification as the need for doing so, and possibility that he can contact Skippy. In most terms however, everyone knows, Ruprecht will fail, and most just go along with the idea, just to simply watch him fall flat on his face, making others snicker and laugh at the supposed geniuses plans, showing that he nothing more than a normal person. Nothing more and nothing less. Yet Ruprecht science fictional ideas just keep moving forward, and his ability to cease giving up, makes him a tragic character. Because his love science, his arrogance lack of ability to actually understand life, in its simple format, and to see that life is not just made of laws of physics and “M-Theory,” and atoms and particles, and really life is just simple, in its terms that you live and die. Ruprecht unable to comprehend this, and un able to accept this, only sets himself up for more and more failure, to the point that you only expect him to fail, and say “good for it, you deserve to fail. You can’t accept the inevitable, then so be it.” Which makes it hard (for a person like myself to sympathize with Ruprecht)

Throughout the entire life story, we watch the characters fall to pieces. The entire novel truly shows the authors ability to show the hopelessness of life, and its humour and also shows us, just how much everyone is hiding on the inside. How we are all, secretly on the verge of mental breakdowns, cheating on the people we love, suicide, and watching our entire world falling apart around us. The author Paul Murray shows us in his novel “Skippy Dies,” just how futile life can be, and also how nasty people are. When people try to cover up scandalous affairs for the good of the many, rather than facing the justice and consequences that come with all our actions, Paul Murray is showing us all that no matter what. There is a deep hopelessness, and irony to our lives, but also a sense of hope. Surely one can see that we should not envy those, that looks happier or more beautiful or smarter than us. Because it appears that their worlds themselves are falling apart around them, and their entire inner world is plagued by a malaise. When the world around us is falling apart, there appears to be no more reason to live, we all find a reason to live, and just move. When your hand is in the fire, just pull it out, one could say.

Thank-you for reading Gentle Reader
Take care Gentle Reader
And Remember to always stay Well Read.

M.Mary

Thursday 9 September 2010

The 2010 Booker Prize Shortlist

Hello Gentle Reader

When I read the 2010 Booker Prize Long list, in August I was excited to see David Mitchell's new novel "The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet," on the list, I found myself hoping that now was going to be the year that David Mitchell won the Booker Prize. So of course before the Booker Prize stamp for winner or shortlist, was placed on it, I went out and bought along with the other two books that I thought had a chance of winning the Booker Prize. The other two books are "Skippy Dies," by Paul Murray which I am reading now, and "C," by Tom McCarthy.

Others on the 2010 Booker Prize Long list are:

Peter Carey: "Parrot and Olivier in America."

Emma Donoghue: "Room."

Helen Dunmore: "The Betrayal."

Damon Galgut: "In a Strange Room."

Howard Jacobson: "The Finkler Question."

Andrea Levy: "The Long Song."

Lisa Moore: "February."

Rose Tremain: "Trespass."

Christos Tsiolkas: "The Slap."

Alan Warner: "The Stars in the Bright Sky."

yet the Shortlist omits two of the three books, that I had hoped would be on the Shortlist, and hopefully one would win. It appears that Paul Murray, and David Mitchell were omitted, from the shortlist while Tom McCarthy and his experimental/modernist inspired novel "C," would go on to make it to the shortlist.

The Shortlist is the following:

Tom McCarthy: "C."

Peter Carey: "Parrot and Olivier in America."

Emma Donoghue: "Room."

Damon Galgut: "In a Strange Room."

Howard Jacobson: "The Finkler Question."

Andrea Levy: "The Long Song."

I think the real piss off here, is that Peter Carey is shortlisted once again. For those who do not know, Peter Carey is one of the only two novelists to have won the Booker Prize twice. The other being Nobel Laureate in Literature JM Coetzee. What really grinds the teeth here, is that Peter Carey is an exceptional novelist, and a great writer, however, I think, that him being shortlisted once again for the Booker Prize -- and even if he does win it -- kind of ruins the whole prize itself. That’s just my opinion of course. Winning twice whatever, winning three times is fine, but I question the idea of what about new novelists, who are exceptional and great, and are not given a chance next to these great writers like Peter Carey, JM Coetzee, and others. I think it’s a bit disgusting that they are not always given a chance, to further themselves in the literary world, when everyone pays attention to the great writers of today. That to me shows the literary world is a bit uptight, in the way that it won’t recognize new talent, it only wishes to see, grand writers, getting better. If there is no room for new writers, to have a chance to win prizes, and further show off their extraordinary talent, because they loose to already popular writers like Peter Carey, and JM Coetzee, and others, then the Prize looses somewhat of its worth and credibility because it becomes stuck up and a gentleman's club.

Great novelists come from all walks of life. Many great writers never did win the Booker Prize. Beryl Bainbridge and Nobel Laureate in Literature Doris Lessing never won the Booker Prize but were Shortlisted many times. There fiction is anything but less then authors who have won the Booker Prize. In my opinion I think the Booker Prize has made some grand mistakes, and has also redeemed itself as well. Though still, at the moment the Booker Prize feels like a gentleman's club for Literary Grand Writers; and refuses to recognize younger writers, and other writers who are exceptionally well, and are not well known.


"Simon Burke of Waterstone's tipped C to take the prize, calling it "a challenging yet dazzling novel", adding: "The news that David Mitchell has not made the shortlist will cause gnashing of teeth across the book world, but perhaps is a useful reminder of the independence and unpredictability of the Booker. This is still a hugely varied and exciting list. Our money is on Tom McCarthy. The more people that read [C] the better."'

I would not say that The Booker Prize, is independent or unpredictable. It appears like, if JM Coetzee or Peter Carey writes a new book, its always ending up nominated or shortlisted (and perhaps winning) the Booker Prize. That’s not unpredictable to me, that just appears repetitive, and taking an easy way out, by picking a great novelist, rather then taking a chance on another novelist.

Here is hoping though that the winner of the Booker Prize of 2010 is deserving of it. Not saying that Peter Carey is not deserving, but at the same time, its about time he moves over for the prize to be awarded to a new novelist.

I am hoping that Tom McCarthy's "C," wins, and that a lot of people will read the novel.

It still seems like a pity that David Mitchell did not get shortlisted, but there is always next year and the year after that.

Take Care Gentle Reader
Thank-you for reading Gentle Reader
and as always:
Stay Well Read

M.Mary

Thursday 2 September 2010

Kraken by China Mieville

Hello Gentle Reader

I was first introduced to China Mieville from his novel "The City & The City," which was a alright novel. Kraken though does not seem to measure up to the expectations in which I had hoped it would have. Told through the eyes of a third person narrator, who is not objective, I can see that, there are some things, that just don't sit well with my appetite for literature and a good story.

Set in London, we as the reader are given two different coherent ideas of what this London is. There is the "Normal," London, which things obey the laws of reality, and then there is the alternate London where the laws of reality are not so much, obeyed. Yet they still have laws -- oddly enough.

Part of any fantasy really, I can see is that, the reader is always going to have to suspend a certain amount of belief, or view on reality and just kind of the let the story flow. One could compare fantasy in a novel or a story, to that of a magic show, that a spectator is watching. The spectator in a way kind of lets go and just enjoys the show, wondering how the magician did the illusion. Fantasy is the same way, it just suspends all belief, and is just entertainment.

"Kraken," for me, just didn't feel right. It felt, melodramatic at sometimes, such as when the police find out that two villains or rather evil people (if one could call them people) going by the name of "Goss," and "Subby," are back, I felt, unable to relate to who these two people where, at really was the danger of "Goss," and "Subby," though I was intrigued with these creatures, and wanted to know more about them, and where they came from and what they were.

I also felt like there were so many characters, to trying to figure out the same thing, that I was uncertain what really, was going on. At times I was unsure of, why certain people, where searching for a missing dead, and preserved giant squid, which apparently to a religion or rather a cult, is known as "Kraken," which they worship as their God.

There were times when I wondered who was the main protagonist, Billy Harrow -- the curator who preserved the giant squid -- Kraken God; or Dane Parnell one of the people who worships the giant preserved squid as a God.

Perhaps there were to many characters, and not enough characterization, for this novel to work with so many characters. As someone said on another blog or review, this novel is funny -- though sometimes i seemed to have missed humour -- its over lying story arch does not really work. However it may have worked, with short interlinked stories perhaps, which could allow the episodic chapters to become more detailed, look at the characters, their motives, and goals and reasons for wanting to the squid, rather then it being left out and sometimes feeling forced.

The potential for a great story is there. A bit more explaining and cutting down the amount of characters would make for a much more pleasing story rather then it being a cacophony of voices, and English slang.

That’s the only other problem really that I had with China Mieville's "Kraken," is the English slang that was presented in the third person narrator. I can accept and tolerate, that form of language in the characters, speaking. But when the narrator sounds more like a character rather then a objective person or fly sitting on a wall, looking around at the characters as they look for the squid. Perhaps though that is what China Mieville wanted, to be done with the third person technique is to have the third person character, be a character itself. I toyed with the idea that the third person narrator was London itself, though I can't say for certain and I certainly cannot say it is.

Is China Mieville's novel "Kraken," a good read? Yes. It is a great read? no, not really. However I don't think any book is really a great read for that matter. Every book has its flaws. Every story has its holes in it. China Mieville's fantastical novel, is not a beach read, or a pool side read, but one you more or less, need to pay close attention to. Its not a fuzzy story written together. Its densely packed, with a lot of English slang. A good read yes, but not a great novel, and certainly it did not really live up to the expectations i had for China Mieville after reading his novel "The City & The City."

Take Care Gentle Reader
Thank-you for reading Gentle Reader
As Always Stay well Read

M.Mary