This is a book I stumbled upon recently because of the title. I would not normally read any book that contained the warning of being long listed for the Man Booker prize, but I overcame my inverse snobbery and gave this one a go. And I am very glad that I did.
In these pages are the hilarious exploits of students and teachers alike in an exclusive Catholic boy's school in Ireland. Mercifully having avoided recent scandals, we are told, this is a school with a history and a tower that is nothing at all like Hogwarts school! We meet the boy genius who spouts string theory, a school psychopath drugs dealer, a teacher who is following the maxim "if you can't do it, teach", a school administrator who spouts management speak and Skippy - named for his teeth, and his resemblance to the bush kangaroo when it tries to speak.
The book opens with Skippy's death, but then flashes back to the lead up to this event. What appears to be a choking incident gradually unfolds as something quite different.
Try as I might, I could not help but like Skippy. The characterisations in this book are very good, and the writing is interesting too. Sometimes it was all a bit too trendy for a non Man Booker reader such as myself. The book could maybe have been shorter, and the dialogue could have been less experimental in places. It all seemed written to conform to a vogue for a certain style of contemporary fiction that I suspect we will not value in 100 years time.
For that reason, this won't be my favourite read of the year. Also, the subject matter is dark in places, sometimes menacing, and sometimes just unattractive.
But whilst it won't be a popular mass read, I think it deserves its place on the Booker long list, because this is a very intelligent book. The writer is an astute observer of his society, and he presents it in a manner that is occasionally tongue in cheek, but often very profound.
I could imagine quoting portions of this text. He explores some interesting questions too. A teacher on the verge of a breakdown argues with the acting principle on the lines of "we should teach the children the truth", to the obvious but depressingly real reply on the lines of "no, we teach them whatever it takes to pass their exam".
This book is full of such insights. It is a sad book at times and a depressing one at others, but the humour offsets it. The language was strong in places - but this was, after all, set in a boy's school!
So all in all this is a wonderful and recommended book. Maybe not my favourite, but one of the most profound I have read in a long while. I am also glad it did not actually win the Booker prize, as I can now continue to proudly say that I never yet read a Booker prize winner.