Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143112129
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/24/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 120,678
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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 with her husband and daughter in New York City.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Special Topics in Calamity Physics

“A whirling, glittering, multifaceted marvel, delivered in an irrepressibly smart and flamboyant new voice. . . . Q: Is Special Topics in Calamity Physics required reading for devotees of inventive new fiction? A: Yes.”
—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“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. . . . This skylarking book will leave readers salivating for more.”
The New York Times Book Review

“A blockbuster debut.”
—People (Critic’s Choice)

“Gripping and dark, funny and poignant . . . Pessl’s talent for verbal acrobatics keeps the pages flipping.”
—USA Today

“Witty and exuberant . . . Pessl’s pyrotechnics place her alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith.”

“Hip, ambitious, and imaginative . . . It’s always refreshing to find a writer who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform.”
—Los Angeles Times

“A frisky, smarty-pants debut . . . An escapist extravaganza packed with literary and pop culture allusions, mischievous characterizations, erotic intrigue, murders, and unstoppable narrative energy.”
—Entertainment Weekly

“Extravagant, witty and dark, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a sprawling campus novel, an intricate murder mystery, a coming-of-age tale and a sly satire of intellectualism and academia. Her prose is . . . vivid, erupting in a freefall of wordplay, wisecracks, encyclopedia tidbits, and a barrage of cultural references. . . . Her enthusiasm for language is a delight.”
—Miami Herald

“There is a voice here to like, part Huck Finn, part Holden Caulfield, part Fran Leibowitz, and part Nora Ephron.”

“A real novel, one of substance and breadth, with an arresting story and that rarest of delights, a great ending.”

Special Topics in Calamity Physics made me stay up all night reading; in the morning it seemed like one of those parties where everyone is too cool for you but you desperately want to know them anyway. It reminded me of my lost, bad-girl days. I loved this book.”
—Audrey Niffenegger, bestselling author of The Time Traveler’s Wife and Her Fearful Symmetry

“Beneath the foam of this exuberant debut is a dark, strong drink.”
—Jonathan Franzen, National Book Award-winning author of The Corrections and Freedom

Reading Group Guide

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.



Marisha Pessl graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University.



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.


  • 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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Special Topics in Calamity Physics 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 207 reviews.
Wanderluster More than 1 year ago
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.
amrahne More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
ErinDenver More than 1 year ago
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.
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.

For a full review, check out: http://thebooksnob.blogspot.com/
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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
konk More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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 -
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Nathan Blansett More than 1 year ago
Slow to get into, but ultimately worth it. Fun, smart, incredibly witty--Pessl has a knick for good prose. :) Recommended!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Aglaia More than 1 year ago
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.
Smitten_5 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*An overly used device in this book that quickly runs out of cleverness.
LisMB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Absolutely loved this book. Practically lyrical. Very clever mystery.
mfeldman51 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a lot of fun to read. The book references do wear a bit by the end (I found myself skipping over some of them)but the vivid characterization makes up for this.
amydross on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book makes me want to cry. This -- this is what passes for writing? That such a book could be published -- fine. Bad books, inept books, flawed books get published all the time. But how can it be that metacritic.com lists not one single negative review? How can such a piece of dreck be so universally lauded? And if this is the state of literature today, how can I go on writing?The sad thing is, this book didn't have to be bad. All it needed was either A) an author with a smidgeon of humility and self-restraint, or B) a capable editor. Obviously, it had neither, and this is a tragedy. Approximately 50% of Pessl's metaphors were original, insightful, and apt. Unfortunately, the other 50% were so completely ludicrous they made my skin crawl. They needed to be cut. There were also huge chunks of the story that contributed practically nothing to plot or characterization, and were wholly self-indulgent. These also should have been cut.And finally, because I am horribly petty, here's an incomplete list of words and phrases Ms. Pessl and her editors (and, I might add, her breathless reviewers) should immediately look up in a dictionary:repletebamboozledin lieuabscondedimpermeable
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an over-hyped, but not terrible, book. Reading it is like reading what the script-writers of The Gilmore Girls would do with a Margaret Atwood novel (seriously, just read "Cats Eye"). It was grating, annoying, and poorly edited, but I just couldn't put it down.
gmillar on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me quite a while to fully appreciate the style. I'm still not sure if I really liked it - or just liked it. It is a clever concept and thought-provoking storytelling.
Bookmarque on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the kind of book that divides a reader population. Nearly equal numbers will love it as hate it. I fall into the love category. Well, maybe not love, more like admiration. I admire what the writer did here. Granted, it is different enough to be branded as `gimmicky¿ or `hyper-trendy¿, but I think it shows bravery on the part of the writer that she can showcase a very unique style and have it work. For if she doesn¿t routinely talk and/or think like her narrator, this shows an incredible gift of craft.The work references so many books, movies and TV shows that it is nearly bogged down by them. Nearly. It does get bogged down a bit, but not by those. The problem was with some of the referential asides; situational allusions and comparisons to historical/literary/cinematic events and characters. While they at first proved interesting and diverting, the diverting aspect took over and I found myself skimming those parts to get to the action. One thing I think the writer did very well is to make my bond with Blue. I found myself thinking about her during the day while I wasn¿t reading the book. Her situation is poignant and painful, but at the same time wondrous and I was a wee bit jealous of her situation. When things start to go badly for her, it is painful to watch. We know she will land on her feet, but the drop is very effectively described. I felt for Blue and I don¿t do that with a lot of characters.Many will compare this to The Secret History by Donna Tartt and it does compare. Both stories are about the upper crust students within an elite school. They both feature beloved teachers who form a special and often extracurricular relationship with these students. Emphasis is paid to the special clique-iness of the group and how difficult it is for the protagonist outsider to join. And of course, someone dies in both novels. But unlike The Secret History, the students in Calamity Physics are not to blame. There is also a conspiracy in both novels, but the students are the progenitors of it in Calamity Physics.In the end, we have innuendo as to who killed Hannah and a satisfying tying up of clues. Not to say the ending is pat ¿ some loose strings persist, but they are meant to and it works.
Phantasma on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a completely overhyped piece of junk. It wasn't so horrible that I wanted to toss it across the room, but it was close. The author is way too pleased with herself and not quite as intelligent as she thinks she is. The writing was stilted and awkward. I felt like I was driving a car with no shocks down a gravel road. The author seems to think "why use one sentence when I can use 20 pages to convey the same idea?" This was a waste of my time. But the idea was cool, sort of.
jennyo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I spent most of my reading time this week on Special Topics. At first I loved its quirkiness. After about 300 pages of the quirky, I was losing my patience with it and wanted the story to just go somewhere, for heaven's sake, and stop piddling around in adolescent angst-land. Fortunately, soon after that, it did. the plot picked up, and my interest was revived. I read most of the last 200 pages in about a day.All in all, I think I'd give the book a thumbs up. I liked the teenage characters Pessl created, even if most of them did seem straight from central casting. I liked all the literary and pop culture references. And I basically liked the story. I just was getting a little tired of it after 500 or so pages.
arianr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really, really, wanted to give this book a higher rating. I found it unique and interesting, but ultimately, somewhat frustrating. It started out very promisingly, but like a good bottle of red wine left out on the kitchen counter for 48 hours, really disappointed me in the end. Probably because I simply found the whole "mystery" a bit of a chore to read.
melondon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of the most unique novels I've ever read. Incredibly fun, interesting, and well-written. It's not often that I actually enjoy reading the author's sentences as much as the story.