Paul Murray

LifeWorksCriticismCommentaryQuotationsReferencesNotes

Life
1975- ; brought up in Killiney; ed. Blackrock College; grad. TCD (English & Philosophy), 1999; taught English in Barcelona for a year; afterwards returned to Dublin and worked in Waterstones, where he John Boyne; planned a postgraduate course in America but followed Boyne to East Anglia for an MA in Creative Writing; secured a two-book deal with Hamish Hamilton; issued An Evening of Long Goodbyes (2003), a comic novel in which Trinity drop-out Charles Hythloday’s wastes his inheritance in contemporary Dublin;
 
shortlisted for the Whitworth Prize and nominated for the Kerry Ingredients Irish Fiction Award; worked for seven years on Skippy Dies (2009), a rollicking school-boy novel set in the fictitious Seabrook College, Dublin, and concerning Paul Ruprecht Van Doren and his roommate Daniel (“Skippy”), seemingly the biggest losers in the school; the novel was released by Hamish Hamilton in a paperback slip-box set of three parts; he is the son of the UCD teacher, biographer and critic Christopher Murray.

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Works
Evening of Long Goodbyes
(London: Hamish Hamilton 2003), 465pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (London: Penguin 2004), 460pp.; Skippy Dies (London: Hamish Hamilton 2010), 672pp. [as boxed set of 3].

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Criticism
  • Aisling Foster, ‘Plot lost in flawed fogey farce’, review of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, in The Irish Times (10 May 2003), Weekend Review, p.10 [see extract];
  • Patrick Ness, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, in The Guardian (6 Feb. 2010) [see extract];
  • Michael Sopp, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, on The Litterateur (8 Feb. 2010) [see extract];
  • Jonathan Gibbs, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, in Independent [UK] (12 Feb. 2010) [see extract];
  • ‘Seven Years of Hard Labour’, interview-article in Books Ireland (March 2010) [see extract]
  • Eileen Battersby, paperback notice of Skippy Dies, in The Irish Times (16 April 2011) [see extract].

See The Powells Interview
÷
Posted by Jill Owens, 6 Sept. 2010
- online
[accessed 19.09.2011 ]

 

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Commentary
Aisling Foster, ‘Plot lost in flawed fogey farce’, review of An Evening of Long Goodbyes, in The Irish Times (10 May 2003), Weekend Review, p.10: a comic exploration of South-Dublin Celtic-tiger Ireland with Trinity drop-out Charles Hythloday at its centre [‘a young Rowan Atkinson with a Brown Thomas accent, a fogeyish Trinity dropout who spends his days in the ancestral home outside Dublin watching old movies and drinking his way through his late father’s cellar ...’] Quotes: ‘It’s like being in Caligula’s Rome, and everyone around you is having an orgy, and you’re the mug stuck looking after the horse’.

Evening of Long Goodbyes - Kirkus Review
As the technological revolution and economic boom begin their descent on Charles Hythloday’s ancestral pile outside Dublin, he finds his privileged life of cocktails and crumpets under threat. While his idealistic sister Bel tries to embrace this opportunistic new world, in the person of the insalubrious Frank, Charles clings stubbornly to his preferred patrician values of idleness and alcoholism. However, this world begins to disappear from beneath him, not to mention the piano, the ottoman, and the contents of his extensive wine cellar. ... With Charles as our charming but dissolute host, we meet a varied cast of down-at-heel aristocrats, mushrooming bourgeoisie, and a phlegmatic criminal underclass, as well as Bosnian refugees and, bizarrely, Yeats. Wickedly funny dialogue and a farcical turn of events make for a chuckle a page, until some darkly hinted secrets begin to make their presence felt. As Charles’s muddled attempts to look after his unhappy sister and regain his life of ease seem to be going awry, the Hythloday siblings find themselves entangled in an artistic endeavour for the good of the community... but whose interests are they really serving? Clever and compelling, this is one to read when you want the serious diluted with the silly. (Kirkus UK; COPAC online; accessed 08.02.2010.)

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Patrick Ness, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, in The Guardian (6 Feb. 2010): ‘The arrival of Skippy Dies is wonderful news on several fronts. First and foremost, it is at last a new novel by Paul Murray. His debut, the criminally under read An Evening of Long Goodbyes, was shortlisted for the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2003. A hilarious satire of the new Ireland told through the eyes of a clueless young man with aristocratic pretensions, it was also the last we would hear from Murray for seven long years. But now, finally, it’s apparent what he’s been up to all this time: writing the 661 glorious pages of Skippy Dies, one of the most enjoyable, funny and moving reads of this young new year. / Skippy is Daniel “Skippy” Juster, so nicknamed because of his unfortunate resemblance to a certain TV kangaroo. He’s a boarder at Seabrook College, an expensive Catholic school in Dublin, and is at that unfortunate age where “suddenly everyone was tall and gangling and talking about drinking and sperm. Walking among them is like being in a BO-smelling forest.”’ Notes that Murray ‘is [...] brilliant, for example, on the painfully poignant combination of credulity and cynicism that defines being 14 years old’ and he captures ‘exactly what adolescence feels like’. (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critivism / Reviews”, via index or as attached.)

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Jonathan Gibbs, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, in Independent [UK] (12 Feb. 2010): ‘[...] For much of its length, Skippy Dies is a rollicking school comedy, ticking boxes with a gleeful, authoritative flourish. Foul-mouthed boys seek ingenious ways to stave off boredom and make contact with girls, while eccentric teachers despair of their lives. [...] The first volume ends with an eye-opening Halloween Hop that involves many of these themes (drugs, sex) but expels Aurelie [MacIntyre - the attractive supply-teacher] from the book. With her, a spark seems to go from it, as Murray knuckles down and starts working his way towards poor Skippy’s demise. / There’s the only real problem. The book strays near some dark territory (self-harm, domestic violence, bereavement, sexual abuse), but maintains its light, utterly readable, skippy tread throughout. In this it is reminiscent of Zadie Smith’s White Teeth intricate of structure, charming of surface, adept at winding science and history into its design, it can’t in the end decide how serious or funny it wants to be.’ [End.] (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critivism / Reviews”, via index or as attached.)

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Michael Sopp, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, on The Litterateur (8 Feb. 2010): ‘It seems that if you open any novel written by a man in the last decade there’s a good chance its protagonist will be a prepubescent genius. It’s difficult to trace the origins of this phenomenon. In England at least it may have something to do with Mark Haddon’s best-selling The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and its autistic, prime-number-obsessed narrator, which seems to have spawned a literary virus that has since spread across the Atlantic and beyond. [...] Readers who enjoyed Murray’s debut An Evening of Long Goodbyes will be disappointed by this follow-up effort. Whereas Murray’s first novel, a much funnier book, is held tightly together by its epicurean protagonist Charles Hythloday, who at his best combines Ignatius Reilly’s manic indolence with the caroming debauchery of a Sebastian Dangerfield, the narrative of Skippy Dies is too diffuse, and its central pairing of Ruprecht and Skippy cannot hold. [...] Ultimately, Skippy Dies is overwritten, overlong, and under thought-out. If you haven’t already, read An Evening of Long Goodbyes instead.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Critivism / Reviews”, via index or as attached.)

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Kevin Power, ‘Second Year at Seabrook’, review of Skippy Dies by Paul Murray, in The Irish Times (10 Feb. 2010), Weekend Magazine: ‘[...] The warmest and funniest moments in the book are the ones that feature the second-year boys of Seabrook. Murray has an astoundingly good ear for the way adolescent boys speak to one another that affectionate raillery that occasionally shades into outright hostility (I’ll saw my hands off before I appear on stage with you and your Orchestra of Gays!”) and an uncanny understanding of the way teenagers think and feel. The comic exaggeration of the Halloween Dance sequence, in which a gymful of 14-year-olds vomits en masse because of spiked punch, is underwritten by the light touch with which Murray lets us see the sexual anxieties of these boys and girls: “God, I’m so sick of these fucking boys,” a St Brigid’s girl declares. “I need a man”; and Mario, Skippy’s Italian classmate, describes the girls as “skittles, waiting to be bowled over by Mario’s big balls”. / But the entire book is full of beautifully observed moments like these. The Automator, in particular, is a pitch-perfect parody of a kind of blindly loyal, jargon-spouting ideologue with whom we’re all familiar. Of the fishtank in his predecessor’s office, the Automator remarks: “Fish aren’t team players. Look at them. There’s no system at work there. They’re not even talking to each other. How are they going to get anything done, you may ask? Answer: they’re not.” / There’s a lot going on in Skippy Dies. It’s an ambitious book, and it aims to encompass a great deal in its tragicomic sweep: from Howard’s obsession with Robert Graves and the first World War to Ruprecht’s fascination with M-theory (a possible explanation of the origins and nature of the universe) and interdimensional travel, Paul Murray gets a lot in. But he never loses sight of his characters and their world: by the time Skippy’s death arrives you’re valiantly hoping the title is a lie, or another joke. Alas, it is not. Skippy Dies  is impressive in all sorts of ways, but none more so than in its ability to move you. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait seven years for the sequel.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Reviews”, via index or as attached.)

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[Shirley Kelly,] ‘Seven Years of Hard Labour’, interview-article in Books Ireland (March 2010), quotes Murphy: ‘If you’re going to write you have to accept there’s no money in writing, you do it for the love of it.’ Showed his writing to Deirdre Madden at a creative writing workshop in TCD and found her very encouraging; met John Boyne in Waterstones and went to the University of East Anglia for the MA in creative writing on his advice; ‘I wanted to do a masters in the US and I spent a couple of years trying to do that, but there were so many hoops to jump through and it would have been very expensive. In the end, UEA seemed like a much better fit for me’; began working towards his first novel but found the college environment alienating: ‘It was an isolated concrete campus, about a forty-minute walk from Norwich town, next to a lake where a number of students had committed suicide. Also, as a post-grad, you’re not really part of the student scene. I used to take long walks around this melancholy lake, and I became quite patriotic, reading lots of Yeats and Joyce. I suppose I was homesick, really. My girlfriend was in Dublin and that’s where I wanted to be.’ Secured a two-book deal with Hamish Hamilton; worked for seven years on Skippy Dies.

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Jill Owens, interview with Paul Murray (Sept. 2010) at Powell Books - online: ‘[...] I read 2666 last year. [... M]y friend gave it to me for my birthday, so I had to read it, and it’s just terrific; it’s a really fantastic book. He’s a poet. Someone recently told me he wasn’t a very good poet. But whatever the standard of his actual poetry, he’s really alive to the capabilities of language. Every sentence has this punch to it. / Reading that book and reading books like it ... I read Gravity’s Rainbow when I was in college and that book really blew me away. With both of those books, and also writers like David Foster Wallace, you realize that if you have a strong style and a creative style and a style that at a sentence level has a certain amount of energy, then that gives you freedom to do other things. You can engage the reader on that level, and the reader will cut you slack in other ways. The reader will go with you to places where he or she might not have otherwise gone.’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism / Reviews”, via index or as attached.)

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Eileen Battersby, paperback notice of Skippy Dies, in The Irish Times (16 April 2011) - Weekend Review, p.13: ‘Novels rarely come as funny and as moving as this utterly brilliant exploration of teenhood and the anticlimax of becoming an adult. From the opening scene, a doughnut-eating race to the death, and on through the various flashbacks and set pieces, Murray's control over his deceptively profound material astonishes. The print begins to move because the hands holding the book are quaking from laughter. Murray re-creates the one-upmanship between classmates tormented by hormones, maths and appearing uncool. The ruthlessness and vulnerability are there, as are the insecure and bullying teachers. In the touchingly human Skippy, Murray has created an unforgettable Everyman hero, a dreamer and a romantic, while Ruprecht the nerd is also heroic. Keith Ridgway's The Parts  (2003) remains a special novel, yet Murray's comic achievement inhabits a darker hell than Dublin gangland: a southside boarding school. Skippy Dies  is intuitive, truthful and one of the finest comic novels written anywhere. Dies? Never! Skippy lives.’ See also her lament at the ‘shock omission’ of Skippy Dies from the Booker-Man short-list (Irish Times, Wed. 8 Sept. 2010) and her inclusion of the novel in ‘Eileen Battersby’s books of the Year’ (Irish Times, Sat. 18 Dec. 2010).

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References
There is a paraphraseWikipedia page on Murray - rich in paraphrasing details of his first novel An Evening of Long Goodbyes ... viz.,

An Evening of Long Goodbyes (2004)

... is Murray’s comic novel about a 24-year old wealthy layabout who prefers to watch Gene Tierney movies in his chaise longue , with a gimlet in hand, rather than go out and find a job.
  Charles Hythloday is a Trinity College dropout living with his sister, Christabel (“Bel”), in their parents’ mansion, Amaurot. There are only two things that Charles loves more than the film actress, Gene Tierney; his home and his struggling actress sister. While Charles loves his childhood home, Bel notices it makes people become phony, and wants out of the mansion. Charles argues that his time is well spent building a folly in the back garden and perfecting sprezzatura, the art of acting like a gentleman while making it appear like one is doing nothing at all. Charles dreams of a return to a time when men wear top coats and women have white gloves.
 But the fantasy ends when the bills pile up and the bank threatens to repossess the house. Charles devises a plan to blow up the folly, fake his death, use the insurance money to save Amaurot and move to South America. His plans go awry when he finds out that his Bosnian maid, Mrs P, has her children living in the folly. The folly explodes and a large stone gargoyle falls on Charles’s head, putting him into a coma for a few weeks. He dreams of living in Chile with W. B. Yeats, where they spend their time perfecting sprezzatura, drinking gimlets, wearing sombreros, and tending the vineyard.
 Eventually, Charles is forced to work in a Latvian factory. In his spare time, Charles pens a play entitled There’s Bosnians in my Attic! A Tragedy in Five Acts. The Latvian factory suddenly upgrades, swindles its employees out of their wages, leaving Charlie and hundreds of immigrants jobless. In order to make some fast cash, Charles lays down all his winnings on the local underdog, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, who narrowly wins the race despite being severely injured in the process. Affected by the little dog’s plight, Charles decides to give him to Bel to smooth their rift.
 Charles is shocked to learn that Bel is planning a trip to Chekhov’s home town in Russia to study The Cherry Orchard, her favorite play. The next morning, however, Bel drives her car into a wall at full speed, smashing through the windshield and flying into the sea. The circumstances surrounding her death are strange and mysterious, and life for everyone in the house falls into disarray. Charles takes a night job, sweeping the floor of a factory. He has begun writing a novel describing his fall from wealth, and that he likes his new life, in a way.
 One night, he finds Bel’s mobile phone and receives a mysterious call from her. She says that she might come back to him one day, and Charles ends his story walking out into his decayed Ireland, bleakly anticipating her return.

— See Wikipedia page on Murray - online.

 

Notes
An Evening of Long Goodbyes (2003) Charles and Bel Hythloday, two sibling twenty-somethings living in a crumbling old house outside Dublin and trying to find their way in the world without losing themselves, each other and the things they hold dear.. While Charles is a TCD drop-out, squandering of the family inheritance, Bel is striving to live life to the full. The rollicking events of the novel include scenes of drinking, greyhound racing, fisticuffs, vanishing furniture, old movies, assorted Dublin lowlife, mistaken identity, foolish love affairs, eviction and the perils of community theatre. [From publisher’s blurbs; COPAC.]

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