February 06 2010
Mark C O’Flaherty
I’ve just bought Paul Murray’s Skippy Dies in a beautifully packaged three-tome set to replace a well-thumbed single advance copy from Penguin. The literary triptych – three parts of the same story published individually but issued in a single case – is the most extravagant and lovely form of modern publishing. More than a timely reaction against tawdry electronic reading formats, it suggests a major publishing event (like Roberto Bolano’s posthumously published epic 2666) and a new way to cherish literature as object; if “books furnish a room” (and they do), then furnish sumptuously, I say.
I’d fallen in love with Murray’s first work, An Evening of Long Goodbyes, on holiday in Antigua, and Skippy Dies underlines his unique voice with the same elements of elegant, inspired byzantine farce but also a penetrating darkness. Set in a patrician boarding school, it’s a book about mortality, abuse, love, sex, self-harm, quantum physics and… doughnuts.
I won’t let anyone borrow my Skippy Dies box set; I want it to remain as pristine and gorgeous as the work inside. But I’ll certainly be buying it for friends as a perfect gift. For those of us who love reading, and the visual culture of all things bookish, all the best things may well come in threes in the future.