Special Topics in Calamity Physics

( 116 )

Overview

The mesmerizing New York Times bestseller by the author of Night Film

Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some—a clique of ...

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Overview

The mesmerizing New York Times bestseller by the author of Night Film

Marisha Pessl’s dazzling debut sparked raves from critics and heralded the arrival of a vibrant new voice in American fiction. At the center of Special Topics in Calamity Physics is clever, deadpan Blue van Meer, who has a head full of literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge. But she could use some friends. Upon entering the elite St. Gallway School, she finds some—a clique of eccentrics known as the Bluebloods. One drowning and one hanging later, Blue finds herself puzzling out a byzantine murder mystery. Nabokov meets Donna Tartt (then invites the rest of the Western Canon to the party) in this novel—with visual aids drawn by the author—that has won over readers of all ages.

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Editorial Reviews

Janet Maslin
Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated. With its pirouettes and cartwheels, its tireless annotations and digressions, it has a similar whiz-kid eagerness to wow the reader.
— The New York Times
Donna Rifkind
Blue's cross-referencing mania can be surprisingly enjoyable, because Pessl is a vivacious writer who's figured out how to be brainy without being pedantic.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
A whirling, glittering, multifaceted marvel.
The New York Times
Vogue
Place[s] the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith.
Los Angeles Times
Hip, ambitious and imaginative.
The New York Times Book Review
This skylarking book will leave readers salivating for more. The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl's tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring.
Critic's Choice People
Pessl's literary pyrotechnics are just a sideshow; it's her irresistible heroine Blue who makes the novel's heart beat. (People, Critic's Choice)
The Christian Science Monitor
Wholly original and riotously entertaining.
Salon.com
An arresting story and that rarest of delights, a great ending. (Salon.com)
The New York Times
Required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction.
Publishers Weekly

Pessl's showy (often too showy) debut novel, littered as it is with literary references and obscure citations, would seem to make an unlikely candidate for a successful audiobook. Yet actor and singer Emily Janice Card (a North Carolina native like the author) has a ball with Pessl's knotty, digressive prose, eating up Pessl's array of voices, impressions and asides like an ice-cream sundae. Card reads as if she is composing the book as she goes along, with a palpable sense of enjoyment present in almost every line reading. Her girlish voice, immature but knowing, is the perfect sound for Pessl's protagonist and narrator Blue van Meer, wise beyond her years even as she stumbles through a disastrous final year of high school. Card brings out the best in Pessl's novel and papers over its weak spots as ably as she can. Simultaneous release with the Penguin paperback (Reviews, May 22, 2006) (May)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Publishers Weekly
Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course 36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger's Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends sort of a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Precocious Blue van Meer is used to moving around with her professor father, who travels from job to job and affair to affair. But she's not prepared for the consequences when both a friend and a favorite teacher die tragically. A much-touted debut; with a seven-city tour. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery. Blue van Meer, daughter of a womanizing widower, has spent her entire life following her erudite father on six-month stints to the small posts he chooses at obscure universities. During her senior year in high school, though, she convinces him to let her stay put for the entire academic year, which she will spend at the St. Gallway School in Stockton, N.C. There, while immediately proving her academic prowess by besting the presumed valedictorian, she also finds herself courted by an intriguing faculty member, Hannah Schneider, and is reluctantly accepted into her group of student followers: Milton, Charles, Leulah and Jade, each of whom seems to be hiding something about their past. The group meets at Hannah's every Sunday for international cuisine and intellectual banter, and soon Blue is also going on social excursions with the girls and secretly lusting after Milton. Things go awry when Blue and her compatriots break into Hannah's house and witness the mysterious drowning of one of Hannah's friends. The drowning becomes a rallying cry for the group to find out more about their teacher's secret life. The plot thickens again when Hannah herself dies, leaving Blue to put the pieces together and determine the truth. Who was Hannah Schneider really? What was the nature of her various relationships? And why did she welcome Blue into her clique so readily? The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion. But while even the gimmicks work well (chapters are structured like a literature syllabus; hand-drawn visual aids appear throughout), they don't compensate for the fact that The Secret Historycame first. Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143112129
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/24/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 96,419
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl is the author of Night Film and Special Topics in Calamity Physics, her bestselling debut, which was awarded the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize (now the Center for Fiction’s Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize) and selected as one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by The New York Times Book Review. She lives in New York City.

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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Special Topics in Calamity Physics, the dazzling debut of Marisha Pessl, is a buoyant combination of comedy, tragedy, mystery, and romance, a story of disturbing secrets and the eccentric high school student who uncovers them. In vivid prose sprinkled with literary and cultural references, Pessl weaves a complicated tale of self-awakening in a postmodern world.

Blue van Meer is the precocious only daughter of a dashing and scholarly father. After her mother’s death in a car accident when Blue is six, they hit the road together, traveling between her father’s ever-changing teaching positions in obscure college towns. While Blue’s intellectual gifts have been nurtured by her devoted father, she has never had a real home or friends. Instead, she has been raised on her father’s voice and on the literature and political history that he thrives on.

Enter Hannah Schneider and the Bluebloods, an enigmatic clique at St. Gallway, the private school Blue enters for her senior year. Hannah is the gorgeous, mysterious mentor to a select group of St. Gallway seniors, and she invites dutiful and shy Blue to join them. A film studies teacher, Hannah is alluring and unconventional, “the lone bombshell slinking into a Norman Rockwell,” who treats the students as friends and equals. For the first time in her life, Blue finds herself drawn out of the insular family world she and her father have created, and into the lives of these maverick and beautiful peers.

But after a suspicious death at Hannah’s house, this new world raises some disturbing questions, and Blue’s life begins to come “unstitched like a snagged sweater.” Who is Hannah Schneider and why is she so interested in Blue? Does Blue’s narcissistic father really love constant travel, or is he running away from more than the ghost of her mother? What really happened the day her mother died? Who can Blue really trust?

In one life-changing year, Blue will unveil a mystery bigger than her own life. Along the way she will learn to act like a teenager, to love unexpectedly, and to think for herself. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a coming-of-age tale and a disturbing mystery, a snapshot of the dark relationship between ideology and violence but also the poignant tale of a young woman learning to stand on her own. Pessl is a virtuosic writer, energetic and erudite, perceptive about relationships, history, and politics, and able to paint a portrait of contemporary youth alongside a complicated picture of the political battles waged by their parents’ generation. Starting with a “Core Curriculum,” and complete with citations, Web sites, footnotes, and even a final exam, Pessl guides us through the dynamic evolution of Blue van Meer, named after a butterfly, from cocooned caterpillar to free-flying individual.

ABOUT MARISHA PESSL

Marisha Pessl graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University.

A CONVERSATION WITH MARISHA PESSL

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is your first novel. What was the inspiration for this very original story? How and when did you begin writing it?

I began the book when I was twenty-four and, until I moved to London, lived something of a double life working as a financial consultant during the day and writing at night, sometimes all night. Given my tendency to fall asleep at my desk, my dazed and often nonsensical answers to my boss’s questions, I do think my coworkers suspected I was up to something—but were too afraid to ask what it was!

In terms of a germinating idea, I began with character—Blue’s voice first, then Gareth, the dynamic of father and daughter. Where I grew up in North Carolina, many children were home schooled, and I always found that so unusual and mysterious: what it would be like to have your parent quite literally your teacher, how powerful yet isolating it might be. On one hand, to have a gifted, multilingual professor tutoring you privately every day would be tremendous; intellectually you’d be leaps and bounds ahead of the other students. And yet you’d miss out on that very American, Sixteen Candles schooling: the cliques, the cheerleaders, the plays, the P.E., Friday night dances in the cafeteria, slow-dancing with a clammy-handed kid to “Stairway to Heaven.” What kind of person would you become, how would you interact with the world, if, in that section of your life, you had a blank page? Blue tiptoes out of that question.

Blue van Meer is a great narrator, one whom the reader can trust but who undergoes a rapid evolution. What do you like most about her?

On the surface she’s quite shy and unassuming, perceives herself as something awkward and ordinary, totally camouflaged by her environment. And yet her inner life is Dickensian, teeming with incessant observations about people, her surroundings, the world, scientific theory, life, love. I like this juxtaposition, the idea that there are people moving through the world, people you wouldn’t look at twice, who are brilliant, painfully human, great. Blue really tries for the truth too—something else I like about her. She tries her utmost to be a reliable and judicious narrator, even though, given the calamitous events of her life, it’s nearly impossible. Unlike her father, she has no ego, and doesn’t mind how naïve, blind, or, most embarrassing of all, uncool she comes across in the narrative, which is more than you can say for other first-person narrators who don’t think twice about manipulating events simply to make themselves look good.

How did you get the idea for the Core Curriculum format? How much do individual chapters follow the plots and/or characters of their namesakes?

After I completed a first draft of the novel, I wanted to find an inventive way Blue would organize the many parts of her story. Unlike me, who (as you’d realize if you ever glimpsed the desk in my office—if it is a desk under there; one can’t be sure) doesn’t mind chaos, clutter, and pandemonium, Blue has a scientific mind; she loves order, classification, responsible and unambiguous labeling. I was interested, too, in how the books we read—those that are life-changing—stop belonging to the author but become our own in a way that has little to do with the actual narrative, themes, or characters. They take on a different life and meaning, one that is personal to the reader. When I first read To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, I was spending the summer with my family in Venezuela, and read the book sprawled on the stern of my uncle’s boat as we toured tiny uninhibited beaches off the coast. So whenever I hear the title, I think of that boat, the great El Caramelo Cinqo, and the music, Juan Luis Guerra’s “Burbujas de amor,” the unseen threat of sharks and scorpions, how I couldn’t tear myself from the book to reapply sunscreen, ending up with the cruelest sunburn of my life—I picture all of this long before I picture Scout or Boo Radley. In this vein, the book titles of Calamity Physics take on new and often humorous connotations informed by the events of each chapter yet remain rooted in their grand tradition as works of the Canon. It also felt like the appropriate choice for Blue because she filters every experience—even the harrowing and heart wrenching—through a certain book or two that she’s read. It’s her reassurance, how she’s able to absorb things. For readers inclined toward sleuthing, too, every section contains a clue hinting at the reason why Blue named each section what she did. Each chapter comprises a tiny mystery, so to speak, some obvious, others not.

Blue’s father, Gareth, is both seductive and a little unsettling. How did you manage to strike such a fine balance in tone while writing about him? Which of his traits do you find most attractive?

I didn’t think about this balance, actually. My intention as a writer was to make him—all of the characters—as fully realized and real as I could, to see them as people, with as many strengths and weaknesses as the rest of us. Gareth is magnetic, which has to do with his confidence and wit, but also the brazen way he voices his opinions. When it comes to what he believes—what he loves, hates—he doesn’t hold back, and this can be deeply attractive to other people, particularly in today’s world, where many are afraid to stand up, express themselves, go against the grain, be unpopular. History is full of men who can manipulate a crowd, inspire them to do jaw-dropping things, not by force, but simply by speaking. It’s a fascinating and unsettling phenomenon.

Names are important in this book, whether they be nicknames or alibis. Can you describe for us how you came up with the Blueblood’s individual and collective names? Why does the word blue—most obviously as a name, but also in describing cars and nights and eyes—recur so often? What significance does it have for you?

At the risk of sounding somewhat mystical, I simply go with my gut when I’m christening characters. I try to determine if the name matches the face and body of the person I see in my head. It’s very much like being a shoe salesman: you have to find the right pair of shoes for them to walk around in. They can’t be too big, flashy, or impractical. (If there’s one thing I hate in novels is when a character who has buggy eyes and walks hunched over with a cane has a name like Bulge E. Stoops.) The name must fit just right, be comfortable, practical for the long haul, yet in accordance with their style and personality. Funnily enough, I wasn’t a huge fan of “Hannah Schneider,” but every time I tried to change it, it felt so outrageous and wrong, I had to change it back. Nothing else worked for her. She really wanted to wear those rather ordinary shoes—so I let her.

Certainly, if the book had an overriding hue, a lens through which we’d see all the characters and events, it would be dark blue, implying beauty, sadness, and secrecy. Apart from countless cultural connotations of the color—singing the blues, Picasso’s Blue Period, blue sky (happiness, but also a knack for creating something from nothing)—it signifies morality and strength, two of Blue’s prevailing qualities.

The book ends with a lot of unanswered questions. We’d love it if you could tell us the correct answers to the quiz at the end! Any hints?

Having suspected some readers will hope they can e-mail me, entreat to my softer side, get me to clarify everything using Excel spreadsheets and flow charts, I’ve sadly decided no reader can know more than Blue. It wouldn’t be fair if you were able to go over her head and speak directly to the Chairman of the Board. I will say, however, that all information you need for the Final Exam exists between the covers of the book, so it’s possible you can piece the puzzle together better than she can. You might find something she’s missed—or only pretended to miss.

What books or authors have been particularly influential in your life?

Like Blue, I spent my childhood reading big, dense books, from the Victorian to the Russian to the Gothic to the American Modernists. I love good old-fashioned storytelling, writers who spin a haunting tale, mastering character and plot, crafting a detailed world you can, as a reader, disappear into for days on end—Dickens, Austen, the Brontë sisters, Dostoyevsky, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Tolstoy. At the same time, I love language and am inspired by contemporary writers who are genius wordsmiths at the sentence-by-sentence level: Chabon, Franzen, Eugenides. Charles D’Ambrosio is also pretty dazzling.

I think every writer has another novelist who’s bewitched them, and in my case (it will come as no surprise, as his giant shadow drifts in and out of Calamity Physics), it’s Nabokov. He mastered everything I’m secretly zealous about, writing-wise: every sentence glows, his plots are flawless, descriptions gaspingly real, themes—the sadness of exile, obsessive love, childhood, problems of knowledge and memory—always relevant. He was in such control of his narratives, he had time to construct cat-and-mouse games for his readers. His books are civilizations you can mine endlessly (if you’re into that kind of thing) and intellectualized entertainments (if you’re not).

Will we see more of Blue van Meer in future work? Are you working on a second novel?

I am working on my second novel, filled with new locations and new characters, so I don’t think Blue (or Gareth, for that matter) will make an appearance. I do suspect in future books one of them will appear—even if it’s just a Hitchcock cameo.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Blue describes herself as a “Jane Goodall,” an observer not a main actor. She is quiet, in thrall to her father, bookish, and solitary. What did you think of her when we first meet her? How does she change over the course of the novel? At the end, what new characteristics has she acquired?
     
  • Her father, Gareth van Meer, is her opposite: charming and callous, verbose and secretive. He dazzles women, is adored by his students, and is completely committed to his daughter. Yet there are clues that all is not right with Gareth. Go back to some passages in the book where Blue hints that he is hiding something, such as when she describes her frightening apprehension, at the age of eleven, that he is a “terrifying, red-faced stranger bearing his dark, moldy soul” (p. 33). What is your opinion of him at the novel’s conclusion?
     
  • The relationship between Blue and her father changes over Blue’s senior year. At the start she loves and trusts him unconditionally, but at the end she has hard questions for him. How does Blue’s attitude toward him begin to change? Does he alter the way that he treats her? Try to imagine their future relationship; how might they feel toward each other?
     
  • The death of Hannah Schneider, movie-star beautiful and charismatic, is the mystery at the heart of the novel. Who was Hannah Schneider? What does Blue learn about her past, and about how they are linked? Do you have sympathy for Hannah? Was she well-intentioned or do you think she was disturbed and dangerous?
     
  • Hannah takes Blue under her wing and includes her in the group of students, the Bluebloods, that she has befriended and mentored. Why is she so interested in Blue? How does she encourage Blue to act? Try to think of what she provides for each of them that they wouldn’t otherwise have, the way she “reads” each of them “so you thought you were her favorite paperback” (p. 322). Is she a good influence on Blue and the others?
     
  • Small-town America is also a subject of this book; Gareth is a “perennial visiting lecturer,” who raises Blue in a series of obscure towns throughout America. Think back to some of the places that they have lived, and the accompanying Americana—the Wal-Marts, chain restaurants, and suburbs that Blue and her father drift through. How would you describe this America? How is it different from other, more mainstream, depictions of the country? Do you recognize these places? What do you think Blue thinks of them?
     
  • Zach Soderberg seems to Blue at first to be bland and simple, a regular guy who does not attract her as the wild and nonconformist Bluebloods do. But what does Zach offer that the others cannot? What do you think he sees in Blue? Why do you think the Bluebloods are so disparaging toward him? What role does he play in Blue’s transformation?
     
  • Blue calls her father’s endless stream of romantic conquests “June Bugs,” saying “Dad picked up women the way certain wool pants can’t help but pick up lint” (p. 29). What is her relationship to some of these women like? Does she grow more sympathetic to them? Consider some of the specific encounters Blue has with women Gareth is involved with. What does the incident with “Kitty,” in particular, teach her?
     
  • The Bluebloods are mesmerizing but merciless and are at first cruel even to Blue. How would you describe them as a clique? Individually? Which of them grow more sympathetic, and which become kinder toward Blue? Are any of them redeemed by the end of the story?
     
  • The relationship between ideology and violence is a subtext that turns into a main theme. Who is particularly ideological or political in this book? What do they believe in and advocate for? Try to trace Gareth van Meer’s beliefs, in particular, by returning to earlier passages in the novel where Blue mentions his ideas, reading material, or lectures.
     
  • At the end of the book, Blue is faced with a hard choice about the information she has uncovered. How does she act and why? Though he never says, do you think her father is proud of her ultimate decision about the secret she uncovers? What does her decision, which costs her plenty, tell you about Blue’s morals and inner strength? What would you have done?
     
  • Much of the investigation that Blue undertakes depends on her interpreting various clues and events correctly. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she fails. Who attempts to mislead her, and how do they do it? What enables her to grow better at understanding the machinations of the adults around her? Do you agree with her final assessment of the mystery at the heart of her origins and of the novel? Or do you agree with Gareth that “we are under an invincible blindness as to the true and real nature of things” (p. 261)?
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Customer Reviews

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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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 116 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    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 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.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2006

    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 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.

    8 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 29, 2009

    Different

    I really enjoyed the over-the-top campiness of this novel. I found myself laughing out loud while reading the book. As someone who loves to read, I appreciated many of the literary references in the book.

    The main character, Blue, transformed a bit through the process of the book, but her main core remained unchanged. I found her fascination with her father a little weird, but the flaw is understandable, given her constant movement and lack of other figures in her formative years.

    The plot twist at the end was a little implausible, but the suspension of disbelief is a great thing. I did go back and reread the beginning after I finished the book to see what I had missed the first time.

    Overall, a good, funny read that does require a little whimsy. I can see that this would not be for everyone, but I really liked it.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 14, 2006

    A Bit Too High-Brow

    I was lured into buying this book due to all of the great reviews it received. However, I found it very irritating to have to stop and think about this reference or that, these parenthetical comments or that...I felt that the author over compensated with the academic and literary prowess at the reader's expense. I didn't really get half of the references, eventually stopped trying to, and found myself skipping entire pages in search of dialogue or paragraphs that were related to the actual story line. Maybe I just wasn't smart enough for this book. I did not enjoy it very much.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 31, 2008

    Clever, Funny and a Little Mean

    I hate Marisha Pessl the way everybody in her book hates Deity Looks Edition, which is to say I don't hate her at all but want to wake up tomorrow and be her. That is to say, in my mind she is America and I am a Russian Mail Order Bride; she represents endless opportunity and talent and I represent moldy bread at the end of a two hour wait in snow. <BR/>Anyway, enough about how Marisha Pessl turns me into a communist lesbian and on to why I'm hyper hyper gay for this book. I'm an elitist. I read books. And, jesus, do I love my celebrity gossip. And this is a smart, well written, dry and extremely dark compilation of all things wonderful.<BR/><BR/>For a full review, check out: http://thebooksnob.blogspot.com/

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Why. Why?

    I mean really? Any comparison to Donna Tartt is ridiculous. This book started out with some literary promise and interest but by the idiotic denoument I could not believe the waste of time I spent reading this self involved tripe

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 11, 2012

    This writer is amazing. Don't read if you're just looking for pl

    This writer is amazing. Don't read if you're just looking for plot; this book is almost ALL character development. I'd say it's a tough read too, although that's what I enjoy. I can't wait for her next book. I feel supremely educated after reading this book and want MORE. I underlined, highlighted, and made notes throughout the book. If you like your books gift wrapped and tied with a bow at the end, don't read. This is for those who can appreciate literary excellence!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 12, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Random facts, Purple prose, Teenage Angst, and Murder

    At its base, this is the story of a smarter-than-average teen-aged girl learning whom to trust. It is set primarily in an upper class east coast town and private high school. I live in California, so I can't tell you if the atmosphere is accurately described. It seemed cliche to me.
    So did the In Crowd that our heroine, Blue, is thrust in to.

    Blue's father has been her life until he decides that they should suspend their peripatetic ways for her senior year of high school. She begins to learn about kids her own age through the agency of a quirky film history teacher, Hannah, who feeds dinner to the aforementioned In Crowd on Sundays. They all worship her, so when she asks them to include Blue in their reindeer games they attempt to comply. Not graciously, though. The story gets darker from there.

    The most noteworthy aspect of this novel is Blue's voice. After her mother died, her genius father raised her in his own image. He is a teacher of political science, his specialty is revolutions. He moves from college to college as a special lecturer. The car games that they play as they drive around the country will make factoid freaks drool. He is also quite a ladies' man.

    So Blue is more than precocious intellectually. Her narrative wanders off on literary, political, cinematic, and geographic tangents. There are even footnotes added for academic comic relief. I suppose it is possible that these tangents are a purposeful delaying tactic that the author starts using long before the suspense begins to build. Perhaps I have just ruined the parlor trick.

    But in spite of my obvious reservations about the rococo quality of the prose, I read the whole thing. I was pulled through it, I continued to find ideas and turns of phrase that entertained me, and I did get caught up in the mystery.

    I found the ending anticlimactic, but appropriate. I will follow that example.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 6, 2007

    A reviewer

    You can plow your way through this tedious novel by skipping all the citations and reading just the first and second sentences of each paragraph. There is probably a world record here of how many analogies and metaphors can be crammed into a chapter. I guess I must be too ancient and unhip to 'get' it, but this is neither good writing nor thoughtful editing and I am lucky that a friend loaned it to me so I'm not out the price of the book, just the time.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 15, 2013

    Special Topics In Calamity Physics Review

    Having just finished the authors second book, Night Film, I was pretty excited to read this...those looking for another Night Film will most likely be disappointed. That being said, this story is still a great literary read ala The Secret History (Donna Tartt).

    I will say the first half was a bit long winded and the authors use of references/citations annoying (interesting evey once in a while: disturbing interuptions the rest of the time). Not much of the plot starts kicking to life until somewhere around mid-book the last section finally reeling you into the promised mystery & thought provoking pieces.

    As for the big twist ending? I had guessed at the majority of it fairly early on and as the plot rolled out it only confirmed my suspicions. However there were a lot more details revealed at the end which filled it out and at least made it satisfying if not surprising.

    The story is also an elegant and poignant look at coming of age and features some very real characters (worts and all) and painfull and sometimes beautiful truths.

    - Miss Paraprosdokian -

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2012

    Precocious

    Although the author seems determined to make us work for the answer to whodunnit, this novel is one of the most fun books I have read in a while.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 13, 2011

    Certainly interesting

    Slow to get into, but ultimately worth it. Fun, smart, incredibly witty--Pessl has a knick for good prose. :) Recommended!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2010

    An Inspiring Read from a New Writer

    I had originally picked up Pessl's Special Topics to complete a deal on books, but had no intention on reading anything above and beyond the ordinary. It turns out to be a wonderful tale of young confusion and wild twists all made by the unusually tedious yet ornate style.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    Liked it

    A friend of mine lent me this book, and then I went on to buy it for myself, because I am planning to reread it at some point.
    First off, the idea is original, the style, while not yet refined, is not bad, and enjoyable. The story is compelling, exciting, and it entangles you entirely. It is a novel that is very hard to put down.
    I was sometimes tired of all the references. It was too obviously clever and smartish in a way. And I also thought the ending was a bit anticlimatic, and a lot of questions remained unanswered, which was obviously done on purpose, but hey, I still complain.
    Great characters as well. Little Blue is a bit clueless, a bit too clueless for my taste, but anyway. Good read, I really recommend it to all.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 8, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Fun Read

    I found this to be a fun book. Interesting characters and intriquely written. At times I gave myself permission to skim, as Pessl's style (due to the main character) is sometimes tiring. Worth it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2008

    Footnotes*

    *An overly used device in this book that quickly runs out of cleverness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2014

    hades cabin

    Here

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2013

    Horrible

    This is the worst book I have ever read. And I am a lit graduate of UNC. I wish there was a "zero" grade.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2013

    Somewhere Between Good and Very Good. It was a fun read, a good

    Somewhere Between Good and Very Good. It was a fun read, a good story, but the CONSTANT literary reference interruptions got really irritating, to the point where it didn’t seem to be adding to the plot and began to feel like the author was simply trying to impress the reader with her literary knowledge. I found myself skipping whole paragraphs that seemed to be nothing more than superfluous literary references. My annoyances with the book didn’t end there. I found the characters to be flat and stereotypical despite what seemed like a painstaking effort by the author to develop them. In the end, I just really didn’t care about any of them, except perhaps for Natasha who doesn’t really ever appear in the story except as a memory. I also felt the book was way too long for the story it was telling and truly dragged on at times. It wasn’t until the last 100-200 pages or so that the pace really picked up and it became, for me, a “page-turner”. And then, after all that, the end just left me feeling unsatisfied. (I’m having a hard time explaining why I felt that way without giving away the plot.) I wasn't sure whether to give the book 3 stars (good) or 4 stars (very good), but between the incessant literary references, the 2-dimensional stereotypical characters, the slow pace, and the disappointing ending, there was enough to detract from what was otherwise a great story. 

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2010

    Wonderful, unique novel

    This book was absolutely amazing. The author's writing style is unique and rich with vocabulary and interesting facts. In no way do I agree with some of the other reviewers and think that she is "showing off". She is a genuinely good writer and I look forward to her second novel.

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