String Theory: Brief thoughts on Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Faber, 2010)

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray’s second novel, is, put simply, a great work of paranoia. By paranoia, I mean that in the Everything Is Connected sense, the sense in which it appears as a common thread in the work of Thomas Pynchon. What James Wood dumbly referred to as Hysterical Realism.

Murray, according to a 2010 interview he gave to the Paris Review, shortly after the novel was long-listed for the (then) Booker Prize, was greatly influenced by Gravity’s Rainbow:

Gravity’s Rainbow was the first book that captured the energy of popular culture. That was the first book that was like, wow, literature can do this, literature can—as well as being a higher art form that expresses grand notions about memory and loss and so forth—be something that my peers could conceivably enjoy.

What he manages to articulate in the novel, which is in itself a great piece of comic writing, is to come up with a unified theory of storytelling that embraces Thomas Pynchon’s ideas of the paranoid. It comes near the end of the novel:

“Maybe instead of strings it’s stories things are made of, an infinite number of tiny vibrating stories; once upon a time they were all part of one big giant superstory, except it got broken up into a jillion pieces, that’s why no story on its own makes any sense, and so what you have to do in life is try and weave it back together … until you’ve got something that to God or whoever might look, like a letter or even a whole word. ”

It’s jolly good stuff and it made me want to read about quantum mechanics: these are both good things.

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