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Archive for the ‘The Divine Comedy’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-Loose Canon: Live in Europe 2016-2017 (2018).

I loved The Divine Comedy at the turn of the century (the fin de siècle, if you will).  They were one of my favorite bands.

Since then Neil Hannon (the man behind the band) has released a few albums which I have liked–but none as much as those early records.

This recording is primarily his latter songs, and as such isn’t as exciting to me.  (Although setlists from the tour shows that he played a lot of older songs as well, so this disc is mostly a latter period recording).

The first three songs are from the newest album Foreverland: “How Can You Leave Me On My Own,” “Napoleon Complex” and “Catherine the Great.”  And among the next few songs are “To the Rescue” and “Funny Peculiar.”   So that’s five in all from that album.

The previous album Bang Goes the Knighthood accounts for five more songs “The Complete Banker,” “Bang Goes The Knighthood,” “At The Indie Disco,” “Assume The Perpendicular” and “I Like.”

So that’s ten of seventeen from the two latest albums.

After listening to it a few times I have come to appreciate his newer music even more and to see that it is equally as cleverly crafted.  He’s just a different person now with different lyrical and musical ideas.  I will certainly give a re-listen to the last decade;s worth of music.

“How Can” is fun a bouncy, “Napoleon” is snarky and witty.  “Funny Peculiar” is a duet with  guest vocals from Lisa O’Neill.  She has a fascinating singing style which is kind of peculiar in its own way.

“The Complete Banker” is wonderfully sarcastic and catchy and “I Like” is so simple and delightful.  “Assume the Perpendicular” is an other fun uptempo song, but of this batch its “Indie Disco” that is the real highlight (this includes an excerpt from New Order’s Blue Monday”).

It also sounds like this was a fun souvenir for anyone who saw the tour (he dressed up as Napoleon and others, and apparently “Indie Disco” was really fun live).  I have always wanted to see them and hold them high on my list of bands to see.  But he hasn’t been to the States in almost ten years, so I don’t have high hopes to experience them live.

The band for The Divine Comedy’s live shows has changed over the years, sometimes large and orchestral or, like this tour, a simpler five-piece.  They sound good although they do underplay the orchestral quality of the music.

Going back there’s one from Victory for the Comic Muse “A Lady Of A Certain Age” and one from Absent Friends “Our Mutual Friend.”  These two songs are lovely and quite poignant, especially “Lady.”  They are a far cry from the raucous songs of old.

The first older song is from 2001’s Regenertaion with a wild and fun rendition of “Bad Ambassador.”  His voice doesn;t sound great on this song.  I’m not sure if he ever sounded great live, but he certainly underplays some of the bigger moments in the song.

The crowd really gets pumping for Fin de Siècle‘s “Generation Sex” and “National Express.”  These two songs are a lot of fun and I imagine mus t be really rousing live.  Once again he doesn’t sound great. Not that he has lost his voice but almost like he;s not trying all that hard.

The disc is collected from shows all over Europe, so its interesting if they picked songs where he doesn’t sound that great.

It’s not until the encores that he brings out two really old songs 1994’s “A Drinking Song” and “Tonight We Fly.”

I’m sure they picked this particular version of “A Drinking Song” because he admits to being quite drunk himself.  And there’s a funny moment where he gets a hair caught in his throat.  “Is it yours?”  Indeed, his banter with the audience is a highlight.  He is clearly a good showman, and perhaps that makes up for some of the shortcomings of the disc.  This song is a good example.  His voice is much louder than the instruments and, frankly, he doesn’t sound that great as what is mostly a capella–but the overall presentation is fun.

The ending “Tonight We Fly” is a treat as well.  Again, he doesn’t sound perfect, but he sounds like he’s having fun.

I feel like this makes me want to see them a little less–except that it sounds like the performance is great even if his voice isn’t anymore.  Regardless, is he ever comes back to the States, I’ll be there for sure.

[READ: January 19, 2018] “The People Who Kept Everything”

I read this novel 7 years ago.  But since I’ve been going back through old Harper’s and found this excerpt I thought it would be worth reading (the excerpt) again.  And I really enjoyed it, I had forgotten about this scene until the end of the piece.

The narrator says that on the night before he left for college his father gave him a Spanish dueling knife and told him to keep it and never lose it.

When the narrator asks his father where he got it he says he’d better not say–he could tell him he won it in a card game in El Paso or a cathouse in Brownsville.

He kept the knife in a drawer and it moved with him to every location her went–dorm rooms, apartments.  Often it was in the kitchen with the cutlery, ignored by everyone except the new girlfriend who wanted to cook something. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: February 2, 2018] Steven Page

I was thrilled to see Steven Page play with Art of Time Ensemble back in 2015.  When I saw that he was playing (somewhat) locally again, I was really excited to get tickets.  It wasn’t until much later that I realized that he was doing a Songbook tour with the Art of Time Ensemble and not playing songs from his (excellent) solo albums.

That was fine, because I loved his Songbook release with AoT, but as always, I’d much rather see someone sing his or her own songs than covers. But Page had picked great songs for his album with AoT and he picked an even better selection for this show.

The ensemble came out on stage followed shortly after by Page.  Steven explained that the purpose of the evening was that these songs were designed to have their vocal melodies remain largely unchanged but for the arrangers to push the boundaries of what  these songs could sound like.  To go as far as possible without going too far.  He thought many people wouldn’t a lot of the songs but that this might inspire them to check out the originals. (more…)

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irl  SOUNDTRACK: THE DUCKWORTH LEWIS METHOD-Sticky Wickets (2013).

stickyThe cricket-loving songwriters are back with their second disc.  Although I bought their first disc because I love Neil Hannon, I found myself enjoying the songs by Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh even more.  (Which led me to get some discs by Pugwash, a great, sadly unknown band).

I’m inclined to say I like Walsh’s songs better on this disc as well–his title track has a groovy classic ELO-inspired guitar riff and Walsh’s great falsetto vocals.  But I also love the bouncy fun of “Boom Boom Afridi” (written by Neil Hannon). So maybe I just like the two of them together.

These are followed by the amusing “It’s Just Not Cricket” which features a group of rowdy indignant cricket fans singing along. See the awesome accompanying picture below which shows the kind of sort of naughty but not really way the sport is portrayed on the disc.  cricket“The Umpire” gives some real sympathy to the Cricket umpire (who eats his eggs and soldiers) as his position is taken over by machines.

I don’t know much about cricket, so I don’t claim understand what most of these songs are about, but the awesomely bouncy and catchy “Third Man” is a total mystery to me.  But that doesn’t stop me from singing along. It’s like a classic lost Pugwash song.  It even has a (weird) narration from Daniel Radcliffe.  “Chin Music” is a pretty, carnivalesque instrumental.

“Out in the Middle” is a slower Walsh song which is also very pretty.  “Line and Length” is a silly song which (in spoken word) explains how line and length are used in cricket. It has a very discoey chorus which differs nicely from the formality of the verse. “The Laughing Cavaliers” is a march with a big choral vocal line. “Judd’s Paradox” has a lengthy spoken section by Stephen Fry (at his most formal). It’s a very enjoyable song with an interesting perspective on cricket and history.

“Mystery Man” is a pretty, sixties-sounding song with bouncy jaunty keyboards and a catchy chorus–except that the verses are all about how he’s a tough bowler.  It’s also got a hilarious spoken word section read by Matt Berry “trod on wicket.”

“Nudging and Nurdling” ends the disc and is more or less 5 minutes of people saying the words “Nudging and Nurdling” set to a boppy silly melody.  The list of contributors is extensive, although I’ve only heard of Daniel Radcliffe, Neil Finn, Joe Elliott, Matt Berry, Graham Linehan, an Michael Penn (!) who sounds so American. I love they way they build something so simple (and kinda dumb) into such a big song by the end.

Hannon and Walsh know how to write gorgeous songs (even if they can be rather silly).  This is a great collection–even if you don’t know anything about cricket.  You too will soon be shouting along with the Laughing Cavaliers.

[READ: November 9, 2014] In Real Life

I was pretty excited when I saw this book.  I really like Cory Doctorow and here was a comic of his published by First Second, one of my favorite graphic novel publishers (I need to make a category for them…there, done).  I didn’t know Jen Wang’s artwork, but that hardly mattered as the cover was gorgeous.

So the story is an interesting one.  It begins simply enough with Anda, a young girl who has moved from San Diego to Flagstaff (of course, we don’t learn that she moved to Flagstaff for a few pages, so the fact that we are introduced to Flagstaff by a snowfall was confusing to me–I assumed she was on the East Coast).  However, this was not as confusing to me as the other character in the book who doesn’t know where Flagstaff is.  What high school aged person doesn’t know that Flagstaff is in Arizona?

Anyhow, we see Anda in school and her class is given a presentation by Liza the Organiza, a woman who is introducing the class to an online virtual game called Coarsegold (I’m also confused as to why this woman would be allowed to give this presentation in school, but maybe I’m too nitpicky here?).  Incidentally, I really enjoyed most of the art in the book, but the picture of Liza the Organiza on this same page is quite disturbing to me.  In fact, a few pictures in “real life” seem a little “off” to me, and I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy the visual aspect of the book.  But when we get into the game, the pictures are simply fantastic, so I don’t know what that’s all about. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DIVINE COMEDY-BANG goes the Knighthood (2010).

I’ve really enjoyed The Divine Comedy since their earliest Michael Nymanesque music.  I loved the orchestral pop that Neil Hannon seemed to effortlessly create.  His last few records have been less exciting to me.  He has toned down the orchestration and made his songs more subtle.  They’re still beautiful but they’re not always as immediately arresting.  I thought that was true of this album as well, although I found that when I sat down and really listen to the music and words together (what a novel idea) the music played so well with the lyrics that the album overall is easily one of his best.  Although I still prefer the pomp and full orchestration of the earlier music, this newer stuff is very interesting. An artist has got to grow, right?

The new sound is more Tin Pan Alley.  It’s piano with guitars and occasional horns–very limited strings are present at all.  And, as any fan knows, Neil writes wonderful songs about love, and the songs on here are some more great love songs.  The non-love songs span the gamut of ideas–from emotionally wrenching to downright silly.  Neil is definitely a “get to know him” kind of songwriter.  And it’s rewarding when you do.

“Down in the Street Below” is a piano based song that morphs into a jaunty little number after some quiet verses.  It features yet another of his great melodies.  “The Complete Banker” is a jaunty piano song that mercilessly mocks the banking industry.  Not terribly original but certainly fun and lyrically it’s quite clever.  “Neapolitan Girl” is a faster song (reminds me of a Broadway musical or movie instrumental) which is (as they all are) very fun to sing along to).  “Bang Goes the Knighthood” is a musical hall song that is really quite funny despite the somber sound of the music (it’s about a knighted man who indulges in certain proclivities that might cost him what he has).

“The Indie Disco” is the exact opposite, it’s bouncy and shuffly and yet understated as only an indie disco can be (this may be the softest, least excited “yea!” in any song ever.  Name checking Morrissey may not be original but it would be a less real picture without him.  The songs he mentions are kind of dated, but are probably pretty accurate to what gets played in an indie disco these days.  “Have You Ever Been in Love” could be used in any rom-com film montage.  Although maybe it’s too obvious?  Sweetly filled with strings (yes strings).

“Assume the Perpendicular” is a slightly faster song, as befits lyrics, “I can’t abide a horizontal life while “The Lost Art of Conversation” is another bouncy tune with a whistle for an ending!

“Island Life” is one of the first duets I can think of from the Divine Comedy–it sounds like something out of the movie Brazil.  “When a Man Cries” is an emotionally wrenching song.  It seems somewhat out of place for Hannon’s usual topic, but it’s quite beautiful.  The silly fun of “Can You Stand Up on One Leg” is the perfect antidote.  Each verse provides something that’s harder to do than you think.  The final verse offers, “can you hold a singing note for a stupidly long time…. Let’s see how long you can hoooooooooo….oooold on to a note.” For the record, Neil’s note is 29 seconds long….stupidly long!  Is that really him holding that high note for 29 seconds?

The final song “I Like” is a wonderful poppy ditty, in which the full band rocks out (more or less) to another great melody.  It’s a perfect love song (even modernized to include a kind of rhyme with sexy and texting).

Initially I was a little disappointed by this disc, but it really proved to be fantastic.  More, Neil, more!

[READ: December 28, 2011] Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Mindy Kaling a big enough celebrity to write a book (memoir or otherwise?).  To use her own in-book comparison, she’s nowhere near Tina Fey’s level of fame, right? (although I actually think she is funnier).  I mean, she’s a minor character on a popular show.  True, she’s also a writer and producer, but that’s not going to lead you to fame or anything.  The more I read about her in the book, the more I wondered exactly who would know her aside from fans of The Office.

None of that is to say that Kaling isn’t awesome.  She is.  She’s funny and talented and I am thrilled she wrote a book–sometimes within an ensemble your individual voice will get lost.  But I have to wonder how much name recognition she has.  And the book doesn’t do a lot to dispel this sense for me.  I mean, she tells about everything she’s done, and really all she had done was write Matt & Ben (which sounds awesome and which I remember hearing about back in the day) and work (a lot) for The Office.  Not minor accomplishments by any stretch, but not a fame-inducing resume.  Nevertheless, good for her that someone was interested in letting her write a book.  And good for us who read it.  If you are amused by the use of the subtitle of the book (which I am) you will like enjoy the humor here.

I had read some excerpts from the book so I assumed it was all funny essays and whatnot, but it’s not.  It’s actually a memoir with funny essays mixed in.   Of course, Mindy’s life before Matt & Ben isn’t really very “interesting” (the book is very funny during this time of her life, even if she really didn’t do much more than babysit for rich folks and watch Comedy Central).

In the Introduction, Mindy provides a FAQ about the book.  One of the questions is if she is going to offer advice and she says yes.  And here’s the thing, Mindy’s advice is outstanding.  She offers advice about many topics and I don’t think I disagreed with her about anything (except maybe pea coats).  She’s like the voice of reason in a world gone mad and an excellent role model for anyone. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACKART OF TIME ENSEMBLE WITH STEVEN PAGE-A Singer Must Die (2009).

According to their website, “Art of Time Ensemble is one of Canada’s most innovative and artistically accomplished music ensembles. Their mandate is to give classical music the contemporary relevance and context it needs to maintain a broader audience to survive.”

So what you get is a modern orchestra playing contemporary music.  It’s not a unique idea, but in this case, it works very effectively.  And what you also get is Steven Page, former singer of the Barenaked Ladies as the vocalist.  Page has an awesome voice.  I’ve often said I could listen to him sing anything.  And here’s a good example of him singing anything.

The great thing is that the song choices are unusual and wonderful–not immediate pop hits or classic standards–it’s a cool menagerie of songs with great lyrics and equally great compositions.  This is no heavy metal with strings, this is majestic songs with orchestral scoring.  The orchestra includes: piano, sax/clarinet, cello, violin, guitar and bass.

And the song choices are fascinating.  And with Page’s amazing theatrical voice, the songs sound quite different, mostly because the original singers don’t have powerful voices.  They all have interesting and distinctive voices, but not operatic ones.  So this brings a new aspect to these songs (I knew about half of them before hand).

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS-Lion’s Teeth.
This is a very dramatic reading of this dramatic song.  It pushes the boundaries of the original song.

ELVIS COSTELLO-I Want You.
I had never heard this Costello song.  With Costello you never know what the original will sound like–punk pop, orchestral, honky tonk?  It’s a fascinating song, though and Page hits some really striking and I would say uncomfortable notes.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT-Foolish Love
I don’t know Rufus’ work very well, although I immediately recognized this as one of his songs.  Page plays with Wainwright’s wonderful theatrics and makes this song his own.

BARENAKED LADIES-Running Out of Ink
Covering one of his own songs, this is fascinating change.  The original is a fast, almost punky song, and it seems very upbeat.  This string version brings out the angst that the lyrics really talk about (Page is definitely a drama queen).

LEONARD COHEN-A Singer Must Die
This is one of the great self-pitying songs and the lyrics are tremendous.  Page takes Cohen’s usual gruff delivery and fills it with theater. It’s a great version.

JANE SIBERRY-The Taxi Ride
Coming from her early album The Speckless Sky, this is a wonderfully angsty song with the premise that is summarized: “it’s a long, long, lonely ride to find the perfect lover for your lover.”  Page hits one of the highest notes I’ve heard from him here.  Very dramatic.

THE DIVINE COMEDY-Tonight We Fly
This is one of my favorite Divine Comedy songs.  Of course it is already string filled, so this version isn’t very different.  But its wonderful to hear it in another context.

THE WEAKERTHANS-Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
I love this song.  This is a guitar filled pop punk song, so the strings add a new edge to it.

THE MAGNETIC FIELDS-For We Are the King of the Boudoir
I know the Magnetic Fields but not this song.  It’s quite clever and funny (as the Fields tend to be) and Page makes some very dramatic moments.

RADIOHEAD-Paranoid Android
I recently reviewed a covers album of OK Computer, wondering how someone could cover the record.  The same applies to this song.  A string orchestra is a good choice for it, as there is so much swirling and crescendo.  And while nothing could compare to the original (and they don’t try to duplicate it), this is an interetsing choice.  As is Page’s voice.  He has a much better voice than Thom Yorke, but that actually hinders the song somewhat when he gets a little too operatic in parts.  Nevertheless, it is an interetsing and enjoyable cover.

The whole record is full of over the top drama.   It’s perfectly suited for Page and it’s a side of him that has peeked out on various releases but which he really gets to show off here.  As an album, the compositions all work very well–they are, after all, trying to make classical pieces out of them–not just covering them.  And the choices of songs are really inspired.  Dramatic and interesting and when the music slows down, the lyrics lend to a wonderfully over the top performance.

If you like Page or orchestral rock, this is worth tracking down.

[READ: November 28, 2011] “Leaving Maverly”

For some reason I was under the impression that Alice Munro was no longer writing.  I’m glad that’s not true, and really, what else would she do with herself–she has so many more stories to tell.

I think of Munro’s stories as being straightforward, but this one was slightly convoluted and actually had two things going on at once.  It opens by discussing the old town of Maverly.  Like many towns it once had a movie theatre.  The protectionist and owner was a grumpy man who didn’t deal well with the public, and that’s why he hired a young girl to take the tickets and be the face of the theatre.  When she got in the family way, he was annoyed, but immediately set out to hire someone else.  Which he did.  The new girl, Leah, came from a very religious family.  She was permitted to work there under the stipulation that she never see or hear a movie or even know anything about them.  And that she get a ride home.  The owner balked at this second idea–he surely wasn’t going to drive her home.  So instead, he asked the local policeman Ray, to walk her home.  Which he agreed to do.

The next section of the story looks at Ray.  And although the story is ostensibly about Leah, we get a lot more history of Ray.   He was a night policeman only because his wife, Isabel, needed help at home during the day.  We learn about the scandalous way he met his wife and how they managed through the years until she became ill.

Ray talks with Leah on their walks home, something he found terribly awkward because of how cloistered she was.  Then he would get home and talk with Isabel about Leah. This young girl who meant nothing to him was suddenly a significant part of his life.

And then one day the theater owner came to report that Leah was missing.  They went to see her father at the mill, but she wasn’t there.  And there was really no other place where Leah went, so they were at a loss.  It was winter and they feared the worst. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: NEIL HANNON-“A Lady of a Certain Age” (From the Basement) (2008).

[DISCLAIMER: This post was published on September 6th, see that post for details].

This video comes from the From the Basement series.  As I mentioned, the Radiohead live show comes from this series, but initially, rather than recording a whole album, more often that not they recorded a few songs.  The bad news is that many of the videos are no longer available on the site (there’s a DVD, but I’m unclear exactly what it includes).  But for each artist, there seems to be one streaming video.

This is a mellow song from The Divine Comedy’s Victory for the Comic Muse album.  It’s probably my favorite track on the album.  It’s a literate and clever song about an older woman.  This version is simply Neil and his acoustic guitar.  I tend to think of The Divine Comedy as being a heavily orchestrated band (their music is wonderfully symphonic) so it’s surprising for me to hear a DC song in this simple acoustic format. 

And yet, Neil’s voice is stellar and it easily holds up i this intimate setting.  Visually it’s not that exciting (it’s just Neil sitting, playing and singing), but musically it is wonderful. 

[READ: August 31, 2011] One Book Review

Unlike previous columns, Zadie only reviews one book in this one.  And she sets up her reading by talking about summer books.  I recently posted about Summer Books, and this would have been a nice addendum.  Zadie talks a bit about the fun and joy of Summer books.  Her assessment is that a summer book should really engross you: 

If every few minutes you find yourself laying it flat upon your chest and wondering about lunch then it is probably not a summer novel. 

Zadie’s summer book is a continuation of a series.  The author is Edward St. Aubyn and this third book is called At Last (the culmination of the confusing “Patrick Melrose Trilogy” Some Hope, Mother’s Milk and At Last–confusing because the first book of the trilogy (Some Hope) was actually released in England as three separate books–Never Mind, Bad News and Some Hope, making this the fifth book in the series)He has also written other books, but I’m not sure of any of them deal with the same family or not.

At last (and the series in general) is a semi-autobiographical story of a good family in name only.  There is an alcoholic mother, a pedophiliac father, and a main character, Patrick, who has shot heroin and chugged whisky and yet still manages to recite poetry.

Despite the darkness (and the fact that At Last focuses on Patrick’s mother’s funeral), the story sounds like a wonderful mix of dark humor and scathing wit.  Indeed, the previous book, Mother’s Milk was short listed for the Booker Prize in 2006 (he has written two novels in between). 

Zadie quotes extensively from the book and the quotes are really good: long  sentences that are well constructed and contain a bit of humor in almost every piece.  But it’s a subtle humor, and it seems like it takes a careful reading to make sure you get it all. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: THE DUCKWORTH-LEWIS METHOD-The Duckworth Lewis Method (2009).

This is a CD released by the combined forces of Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy and Thomas Walsh of Pugwash.  And if that weren’t enough of a sales pitch, the title of the band is a method of calculating cricket scores!  And even more…in concordance with that, this CD is largely about cricket.  Huzzah!  Buncha sellouts.

I don’t know a thing about cricket, but I know about great orchestral pop, and this disc has it in spades.  Some of the more obvious cricket songs are even understandable to non cricketers (the themes of “Jiggery Pokery” are familiar to anyone who has failed in a sport–and musically it sounds like a silent film soundtrack).

“The Age of Revolution” begins with an olde-fashioned soundtrack as well (jazz swing, including tap dancing) but quickly jumps into a dancey discoey verse (the two soundtracks blend surprisingly well in the chorus).  And the revolution?  Well, it has something to do with cricket.  Next, “Gentlemen and Players” is a wonderfully Divine Comedy-esque track complete with harpsichords.

“The Sweet Spot” is another discoey dancey track with some funky bass work (and innuendo whispered vocals).  And “Rain Stops Play” is a fun musical interlude.

“Mason on the Boundary” is the first track that seems distinctly Pugwash-y.  Hannon and Walsh have similar singing styles, and I find it hard to know who is who sometimes.  But this track is clearly Walsh’s and it’s very nice indeed.  Similarly, “Flatten the Hay” has that distinct Pugwash XTC/Beach Boys vibe and it’s quite good.

“The Nighwatchman” is also a very DC type song (it even sounds a bit like “The Frog Princess” but pulls away before being a repeat of that great single by introducing some very 70s sounding strings).  The rest of the disc follows in this same wonderfully orchestrated pop feel.  This a great record that, as far as obscure bands that get no statewide attention go, is top notch.

Oh, an it’s even more fun with headphones!

[READ: October 9, 2010] Skippy Dies

Wow, there’s a lot going on in this book.  It’s exhausting just trying to think of all the topics covered: boarding school life, failed romance (two big ones), life as a teacher, the appeal of pop singer Bethani, the Catholic priest sex scandal, drugs of all kinds, sneaking into a girls’ school, World War I, institutional cover ups, M-theory–which is pretty much the entire universe, and donuts.

But let’s start at the beginning.  Yes.  Skippy dies.  In the first couple of pages.  And what’s fascinating about this is that we don’t care.  I mean, in the scene where he dies, he’s not even the major character.  But then Skippy turns out to be more or less the glue of the book once the story proper begins.

Skippy resides at Seabrook school in Dublin (the best, most prestigious Christian academy in the country–sorry Gonzaga).   His roommate is Ruprecht (perhaps the strangest major character name I’ve read in a long time).  Ruprecht is a large boy who is incredibly smart (he will single-handedly raise the school’s average on the year’s final exams).  He is a computer geek who is obsessed with aliens and SETI.  And he hopes to be able to communicate with the other world by using techniques suggested in M-Theory.  The book does an admirable job explaining M-theory and string theory.  I’m not going to take up space here, but there’s a fine description at Wikipedia (or, if you don’t like Wikipedia, here’s an academic explanation that is written for the lay person).

Anyhow, Skippy and Ruprecht are two of a few dozen boys who reside full time at the school.  (Most of the other kids are day students).  And they have a cadre of half a dozen friends that they hang out with who make jokes at each other’s expense.  It’s a very realistically written entourage.  Mario is Italian and claims to have had sex with many many women (thanks to his lucky condom which he has had for three years).  Dennis is the ballbreaker.  He’s the abusive one (but by most standards, he’s not a bad guy).  And a few other hangers on.

This story of dorm life is a good one.  The boys are funny, their stories believable, even if they are all eccentric in their own way.  And then, one day, Skippy sees a girl playing frisbee at the girls’ school across the way (Ruprecht has a telescope which he uses for the stars, while eveyrone else uses it for the girls’ school).  And Skippy winds up becoming rather obsessed with the unknown “frisbee girl.”

This girls’ school plays a part in the story in another way too.  Carl and Barry are the Seabrook’s thugs.  When Barry hits upon the idea of selling ADD meds to the locals (as diet pills), it’s the girls’ school that he mostly preys on.  For yes, this story is also about drugs. (more…)

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