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Special Topics in Calamity Physics [Paperback]

Marisha Pessl
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 24 2007
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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From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

After 10 years of traveling with her father, a perennial (and pedantic) visiting lecturer at various, obscure institutions of higher learning, Blue Van Meer finally settles in as a senior at the St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina. There she is bemused to find herself part of a charmed circle of popular kids called the Bluebloods and the protege of the mysterious film-studies teacher, Hannah Schneider. When a friend of Hannah's dies at a party the kids have crashed, this extravagantly arch and self-conscious coming-of-age novel turns into a murder mystery that--although never as Hitchcockian as its publisher claims--is, nevertheless, almost compelling enough to warrant its excessive length. Intriguingly structured as a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, Pessl's first novel is filled with references to invented books--and to some real ones, too, including several by Nabokov. Overkill? You bet. But, as a result, the novel is generating a great deal of buzz that will excite the curiosity of readers who enjoy postmodern excesses and indulgences of this sort. Michael Cart
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stick with it - it's worth it in the end March 6 2007
Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl is a book that I was really looking forward to reading. I loved the character of Blue and her pedantic professor father. I loved Pessl's writing style, her imagery, her language. The love affair lasted until roughly the end of the first third. Then I considered writing to the publishers to suggest that they retitle it Marisha Pessl's Big Book of Similes. By page 200 I was counting the number of similes per page, then by paragraph. This was not a good sign. By page 250 I was ready to throw the book across the room and I was only about half way through it. I get annoyed when authors write very long books when it isn't necessary. I get annoyed when editors don't say "You know this book would be much better minus about 150-200 pages". I start mumbling under my breath about Tolstoy. The centre section of this novel had me thinking that Pessl is a clever writer but more flash than substance with a certain amount of self conscious "look at what I can do" to her. But I thought about how much my son said he loved the book so I plowed onwards. And I'm glad I did. Around the beginning of the final third of the novel Pessl throws in a plot twist (whatever you do, don't read the back of the dust jacket) and the book takes off. Suddenly I was totally engrossed in the story and back in love with our narrator, Blue. The writing became tight and focussed with somewhere to go and something to say. That part of the novel met my expectations.. This is a first novel for Pessl and I'm hoping she will realize that she can write and that she doesn't need to put in every beautiful phrase that has ever come to her. She can save some for her next novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a beach read. June 15 2007
The other review is bang on. The book starts well, gets you involved in the characters, starts to ramble intellectually and then picks up like a freight train towards the end. The author's literary, film and cultural citation is astounding and awe inspiring. I can only imagine she must have an IQ close to her heroine's purported 175 to have read and internalized all of those references. Alas I am not so smart so many of them were way over my head but it didn't stop me from enjoying the book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've ever read Sept. 28 2007
This book was FANTASTIC. Yes, as the other reviewers have said, it's very long (a door-stopper of a book), perhaps I even agree with the reviewer who said it could have been trimmed down, but STILL: that doesn't change my opinion. The author's verbal acrobatics are astounding. There were astonishing metaphors and similes everywhere, but I didn't find them annoying, they were amazing. The plot did indeed pick up in the last third of the book, and for two or three days now I have done nothing but sit glued to this book. The New York Times wouldn't have rated it one of the 10 best of the year for nothing. Read it -- you'll never forget it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it worth it? Sept. 10 2012
A common thread to the previous reviews seems to be the length and detail of the first two-thirds of the book; the author's penchant for detail and literary references is exhaustive (positive and negative). Yes, it does take a turn for the dramatic when the murder of a central character occurs; you think "aha, now it gets good...getting through the first part of the book was worth it!" However, I found the end rather unsatisfying, and incomplete. The book is very much about style. Hopefully we'll see another from the author - with more substance.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing Sept. 15 2007
Though I laughed, at times, I soon got irritated by the constant references - mostly fake. The characters are interesting, the plot is good but it is too much of a farce.
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