Customer Reviews for

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Average Rating 3.5
( 116 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(53)

4 Star

(18)

3 Star

(11)

2 Star

(7)

1 Star

(27)

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

Brilliant Plot, Wondeful Writing

I really wanted to give this book five stars. I REALLY did. Pessl is a first-rate writer. I kept a pen with me the whole time I was reading so I could underline my favorite passages. The plot keeps you turning pages voraciously. It is so tightly woven that you're blown ...
I really wanted to give this book five stars. I REALLY did. Pessl is a first-rate writer. I kept a pen with me the whole time I was reading so I could underline my favorite passages. The plot keeps you turning pages voraciously. It is so tightly woven that you're blown away by the conclusion, realizing that the author had it all intricately mapped out from the very beginning. And the main character, Blue...when I finished the book I felt a little sad that I couldn't follow her on her journey.

BUT, Pessl's genius is also her downfall. As a rule, I'm a big fan of superfluous verbosity, but I have to admit that I got a little exhausted at points. The constant interruption of her sentences with parenthesized information tended to get irritating, and I'm sure I ended up skipping over some of the doubtlessly insightful information therein - but I just really wanted to get along with the story. Also, while clever, her incessant literary references became cumbersome at points (and sometimes weren't all that clever). And while many of her metaphors were stunning, I think there are probably 10,000 instances of the word "like" in the book, which can get tedious.

So, while I absolutely LOVED this book, couldn't put it down, and would highly recommend it, I couldn't give it the five stars I reserve for the crème de la crème.

But regardless, I stand humbly in the long shadow of Marisha Pessl's genius.

posted by Wanderluster on March 16, 2009

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Most Helpful Critical Review

8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

read the secret history instead

i am hard-pressed to remember a time when i was less impressed by a novel, but i suppose i have now learned my lesson (see 'buying books based on publisher-generated hype', stevens 1986). The characters were flat and unbelievable, and the author seemed more intent on im...
i am hard-pressed to remember a time when i was less impressed by a novel, but i suppose i have now learned my lesson (see 'buying books based on publisher-generated hype', stevens 1986). The characters were flat and unbelievable, and the author seemed more intent on impressing the reader with her pretentiousness than on creating a good novel( see 'substituting pedantic style and obscure references for good writing: your key to literary success' journal of writing, nov. 2004). The pseudo-surprise twist at the end fell incredibly flat, and seems inspired by too many tv shows and movies where it is considered avant-garde and masterful to drop a bomb at the end in order to shock the audience, no matter how ill-conceived and out of context it may happen to be (see 'suprise twists: use them to disguise bad writing', wilson, et al, random house 2001). if you think the review with citations was annoying, imagine an entire book filled with them. save yourself the trouble and go read 'the secret history' by donna tartt. it is no academic masterpiece, but it is a great read with some good commentary and characters, and it is obviously the book that pessl read and is trying to copy.

posted by Anonymous on November 22, 2006

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  • Posted June 20, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Good, but infuriating!

    I really liked this book, until I got to the end. I have never in my life gotten so physically anger at a book before, but there is always a first. It was ab engaging piece of fiction, but the only redeeming character in the book was Blue. Everyone else, except the boy who befriended her in the end, were selfish jerks.After everything Blue goes through and for her father to do what he does..well...it just makes me angry. It was a great story,but if anything was missing, it was a happy ending for...more I really liked this book, until I got to the end. I have never in my life gotten so physically anger at a book before, but there is always a first. It was ab engaging piece of fiction, but the only redeeming character in the book was Blue. Everyone else, except the boy who befriended her in the end, were selfish jerks.After everything Blue goes through and for her father to do what he does..well...it just makes me angry. It was a great story,but if anything was missing, it was a happy ending for Blue. Maybe in the next book.

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  • Posted December 21, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Shakespeare's daughter...

    This book begins as a highly original literary novel. Character, Plot, Action, Dialog, Song, and Spectacle all fall neatly in line just as Aristotle described in Poetics centuries before the clever author was even a gleam in her father's eye. The genius in this book blazes forth in the final third when, after some preliminary shuffling about in the depths of the genre closet, it emerges as a full out thriller, or at least a passing resemblance of one. Normally I'd find it unsettling to have an author change horses this dramatically so late in the work but a close reading reveals the clues were abundantly distributed all along. The story itself is so darn good, the writing so intelligent, and the 'cleverness' so inseparable from the outcome that I can only shake my head in amazement and think "Wow, I wish I could do that." Shakespeare may have been the last English language author to master such ingeniousness in twisting a story into surprising and wonderful shapes right under the reader's nose, revealing the 'it' as the grandest surprise of all. This book goes in the special bookcase, the one for books that support the argument for reading and writing as the most worthy of human endeavors.

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  • Posted October 15, 2008

    Dazzling

    The intersection of the history of political philosophy, literature including much genre mystery, psychology, and knowledge of life within and outside of university culture, combines with a teenager's ultimate desire to fit in as well as to stand out. The language dazzles and requires the reader to combine incisive thought and creative imagination. Not everyone will be able to keep up with all of the subtleties in this fabulous tome, but those who can and do will be immensely rewarded. Ms. Pessl stole my heart with her character, Blue, and Blue's iconoclastic dad.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2008

    Beyond verbose

    I think it is an understatement to say that the author is a young, bright talent. We all get that. I was led to believe that this was going to resemble Dave Eggers 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'. Another young talentrd author, but very funny. This book was extremely verbose and could have used a good second edit. The first half moved slowly and some action started when you got about two-thirds of the way finished. I thought the technique was original although I got to the point that I would skip the father's quotes because, although humourous, arrogant and intellectually snobby, they were just too darn long.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2008

    If you've heard this novel is pretentious...

    and an ostentatious eruption of metaphors, analogies, allusions, SAT vocabulary words, parenthetical citations, and canonized literature, then you have heard correctly. However, trudging through that verbiage is the entire point of the novel. How well does her father's academic discourse hold up at the end when Blue needs to find the truth when Blue needs to extend some emotion? The style of this novel is an integral part of this story about truth, deception, and the odd, inconsistent nature of language.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2007

    Wonderful!

    I absolutely love this book!! Finally a move away from the mindless blather that inundates 'literature' today. I can't wait for more from Ms. Pessl. Highly recommended if you're looking for intellectual writing. You may not want to heed my review, however if you are into 'chick lit', because chick lit this is not. Blue Van Meer is a striking protagonist a highly intelligent young woman who must learn a lot of things the hard way because of her upbringing. Great novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2008

    Brilliant book by a talented new author -- I couldn't put it down!

    I just finished 'Special Topics' and have to say that I enjoyed every last minute of it! I literally could not put down this book, and when I finished I wanted to start it all over again. Marisha Pessl's writing is so refreshingly original -- full of wry metaphors and unique descriptions -- which made reading it an absolute delight! The characters are bursting with life and personality, and the plot was spell-binding 'especially towards the end, when everything comes together'. There were so many times while reading this book that I absolutely laughed out loud, like with some of the father's hilariously pompous one-liners or Blue's creative metaphors, delivered with a certain ironic detachment. Blue, the story's heroine, makes a great narrator -- intellectually brilliant, a keen observer, serious but also passionate, she is someone who never misses a beat. Although some people might say that the writing style of the author is 'pretentiously post-modern', that was not my impression at all. Although I agree that the book is certainly NOT going to be an average read, I definitely wouldn't describe it as 'heavy' or burdensome reading. It is much more of an artistic novel than any sort of 'chick lit'. I would recommend this book to anyone!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2008

    Make Way for a New Literary Voice

    I have to say, this is one the finest examples of contemporary fiction I have come across in recent memory. Many have complained about the use of advanced vocabulary to get the charming young narrator's voice across, but I found it refreshing to read an author that dazzles with articulation and knowledge of the English language. Blue is one the most charming narrators in recent literature, and I adored her cleverness. I also loved the relationship with her snobbish, intellectual father. It felt completely authentic. However, it wasn't until the end of this dazzling novel, when all is finely revealed, that I realized how tightly constructed the plot was. It beautifully showcased the author's obvious talents. In short, she seamlessly blends a coming-of-age narrative, a comedy of manners, and a murder mystery into a novel unlike any other 'no matter what admirers of Secret History claim'. I recommend it to anyone who loves dazling wordplay, clever plots, and a smart, charmingly original narrator. Don t believe the negative reviews. Buy it immediately. You won't be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    A great read!

    This book is a wonderful read. It is not typical chick lit drivel. In fact, the book is not typical in any way and shows ingenuity, imagination and talented writing. This is an original story with plenty of characters and plot to keep anyone (except, possibly, Lifetime channel afficiandos) interested.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2007

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics

    This book was horrible. The gimmick with the notations was irritating, interfered with the tempo of the novel, and did nothing to progress the plot. The characters (yes, even Blue) were not interesting or particularily likeable. And the sentences! Each sentence seemed to go on for pages. Save your money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2007

    Waste of time and money

    I thought the book started out pretty well, but I had trouble sustaining interest after the first thirty pages. Any hint of plot was lost in the complex, overly long and twisting sentences. The characters had little substance and were for the most part, selfish, shallow, and completely unlikable. I was disappointed because initially the book had potential but after awhile it seemed like a regurgitation of Donna Tart's book, The Secret History. Dark, dismal, depressing, certainly not worth the time and money.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2007

    Flawed but interesting

    Pessl¿s first novel features a young heroine who is precocious and verbose in the way only a literary character can be. Daughter of an itinerant college professor, Blue van Meer is a girl whose only connections in life have been to the great works of the Western canon. Never without a quote, or the citation to back it up, Blue drifts through life waiting for the epic rise to greatness that her father claims to be grooming her for. However, being raised as a human Bartlett¿s is not a recipe for success in the real world, never mind the fantastical web of sex, lies, and murder Blue naively stumbles into during her senior year of high school. Wrenched from a comfortable womb of textual abstractions into a reality of despair, deviance, and disappointment, Blue must try to comprehend a world that she is totally unprepared for. The book¿s table of contents is presented as a syllabus, and each chapter shares a title with a famous book that reflects the content of the chapter. For instance, the chapter entitled Othello centers on jealousy. You already find this either charming and clever or asinine and contrived and reading this book won¿t change your mind either way. This first novel is flawed, but the flaws are interesting and ambitious. For those who can make it through the 146 pages of set up there is an entertaining noir puzzler and a fresh and quirky narrator waiting.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2007

    Ouch!

    Boring, overly done, too many descriptions, over use of adjectives, unappealing characters. I could go on and on. It took forever for the author to get to the point. A very difficult book to sustain interest in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 11, 2007

    A Different Kind of Mystery

    I was skeptical at first on whether or not to pick up this book after reading some of the reviews. It seemed either people loved it or loathed it. I'm glad I did, because I really enjoyed it. A page turning mystery/drama with an ending with a twist. The language and style of the author takes some getting used to (reminded me of reading 'A Clockwork Orange' by Anthony Burgess). Overall, an excellent read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2007

    Amazing book

    This was not like any other book I have ever read. I tell everyone I possibly can to read this book. Her style of writing flows and you absoluty cannot put the book down. The characters were developed well, the story line was full of twists and turns.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2007

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics

    Excessive descriptions, unbelievable and thinly drawn characters, an overuse of adjectives, and an ambiguous plot made this novel unreadable and not worth finishing. The only redeeming feature came when I finally finished it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 18, 2007

    First time i ever finished a book only to pick it right back up to read completely over again!

    I really enjoyed this book. And I have NEVER re-read a book before. But at the end of this book I was in shock and awe, and needed to reread every page. I liked the narrator, blue, but I do understand how people are distracted by the overly precious verbiage - it sometimes distracted by seeming over-the-top and contrived. But mostly it was an exciting, creative & awesome read. Highly recommended! ec

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2007

    How Could You Not Care About Blue?

    I don't understand the reviews claiming that this book lacks 'characters who we care about.' Blue, the wunderkind narrator, is the perfect balance of sympathetic and cerebral. While recounting her story she vascillates between tender memories of her mother and philosophical nuggests fed to her by her brainy father. And she actually has an interesting story to tell. I have a feeling people hate this book because they like a neat narrative tied up in a bow-- beginning, middle, climax, and ending. Part of its charm, in my opinion, is its open-endedness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2007

    A reviewer

    Horrible. Although I am eduacated and well read, this book tried my patience. It was over the top with its wordiness, citations, and ambiguous references. I put the book down dozens of times and finally decided that finishing it would be an impossible task and complete wast of time.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 12, 2007

    Not for everyone

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Markedly, a number of individuals did not find the tome to their liking and, truthfully, I am surprised at the number of poor ratings. Put simply, I got it. I found the book witty, sapient, and rousing. I enjoyed the plot and character development as well as the prose. If you are looking for a collegiate-level read that is out of the ordinary and thought provoking in its style, I recommend this book.

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