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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,0092891,172 (3.64)329
A darkly funny coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge--and is quite the cinéaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the élite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide--or misguide--her.--From publisher description.… (more)
  1. 172
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Eumenides, shellibrary, Littlemissmops)
  2. 40
    The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff (lyzadanger)
    lyzadanger: Precocious young women in small towns.
  3. 30
    The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides (kinsey_m)
  4. 20
    The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (zhejw)
    zhejw: I loved both books, but Pessl's is a notch up in language, character development, and plot. Lockhart's is the place for teens to start.
  5. 10
    The Likeness: A Novel by Tana French (Sammiwithani)
    Sammiwithani: Also about a group of elite school friends dealing with a mysterious death in their circle
  6. 43
    Likewise: The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag by Ariel Schrag (lorax)
  7. 10
    The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both books offer in-detail insights into life as a young adult when interacting with others.
  8. 22
    The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (krist_ellis)
  9. 00
    The Idiot by Elif Batuman (beyondthefourthwall)
  10. 00
    Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (beyondthefourthwall)
    beyondthefourthwall: Families that seem close on the surface but under the surface turn out to have a lot of multilayered mysterious secrets.
  11. 11
    Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson (Mossa)
  12. 00
    The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall (krist_ellis)
  13. 11
    My Latest Grievance by Elinor Lipman (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both books offer sharp humor offered by a student.
  14. 11
    I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Littlemissmops)
  15. 01
    Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday (sarahemmm)
    sarahemmm: This is worth trying if you like the unusual format of Pessl's book.
  16. 34
    Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both books look at issues encountered by one particular student.
  17. 01
    The Lake of Dead Languages: A Novel by Carol Goodman (Lillydarlene)
    Lillydarlene: The intensity of friendship that comes with being in high school, and with being an isolated group, with a dark secret in the background. Both of these are good if you've read The Secret History and are hungry for a similar feel.
  18. 12
    Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (lycomayflower)

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» See also 329 mentions

English (274)  Dutch (7)  French (5)  German (1)  Norwegian (1)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (290)
Showing 1-5 of 274 (next | show all)
I thought it was great, but I would say it's not for everyone. As an English major and student of the liberal arts, I enjoyed most of her allusions, though they did get annoying. Overall the book probably could have been 100-200 pages shorter, but the ending is lean and neat, which I appreciated. I could have used fewer quotes from the narrator's dad for sure, and fewer condescending details towards southerners, but overall it was a fun read and I look forward to seeing more from this writer. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
I really liked this book, but I put it down in october and didn't have desire to pick up it since then (it's february now). So DNF @110 pgs. ( )
  Alevis | May 17, 2020 |
A unique, beautifully written book about that I fell in love with, got frustrated by and ended up being just good friends with.

I've decided that the best way to do justice to a book as long and complex as this one is to start by offering up my overall impressions and then sharing the detail of the experience of reading the book, based on the notes I made as I went along. There are no spoilers.

Overall Impression

"Special Topics In Calamity Physics" is a book with a personality all of its own. Reading it was like meeting a very charismatic person for the first time and being dazzled by their larger-than-life not-afraid-of-anything personal style, seduced by their erudition and left hungry for more of their stories and views on the world.

For the first half of this book, I was in love. But it's a very long book, nearly twenty-two hours of audiobook, and, just as with people, long exposure meant that, by the second half, some of the glamour rubbed thin, the erudition began to seem compulsive and irritating and I became hungry for the author to GET ON WITH IT.

By the end of the book, my admiration for it was more considered. I admired the depth of characterisation, the boldness and originality of the idea, the unashamed intellectualism of the delivery and the persistent vein of humour that kept everything human. It was an experience I wouldn't have missed.

On the other hand, I was frustrated that the book seemed to meander rather self-indulgently at times and that the impact of the bold idea was almost lost under the weight of the writing style. I was reminded of an interview with Dennis Hopper where he said that the hardest thing about making "Easy Rider" was knowing which of the perfectly shot scenes to leave out. With "Special Topics In Calamity Physics" nothing was left out.

Then there's the last chapter, "Final Exam". I hope that was humour but it felt more like a sneer.

This book may not be for everyone but I strongly recommend that you give it a try and see if it's to your taste.

My experience reading "Special Topics In Calamity Physics.

If you're interested in reading further, please go HERE

( )
  MikeFinnFiction | May 16, 2020 |
Gave this a 4/5 on first read. Now re-reading and seeing some strong echoes of The Secret History, although I still find Blue's voice compelling. ( )
  ChristopherSwann | May 15, 2020 |
I first read this in January of 2007. I have remembered it *very fondly* all of these years. 😂 Sadly, I didn't lurrrrrve it this time. I still enjoyed it, but it didn't rock me. It's really long, given how little actually happens. [I guess I'm saying that she could have had a more gripping and effective book if she had (been) edited heavily.] Having just recently read Night Film (for the first time), I'd say that is a better work. ( )
  joyblue | Feb 21, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 274 (next | show all)
Her exhilarating synthesis of the classic and the modern, frivolity and fate — “Pnin” meets “The O.C.” — is a poetic act of will. Never mind jealous detractors: virtuosity is its own reward. And this skylarking book will leave readers salivating for more.


» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pessl, Marishaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Card, Emily JaniceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Devaux, LaetitiaTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it.
"Unless your name is something along the lines of Mozart, Matisse, Churchill, or Bond--James Bond--you best spend your free time finger painting or playing shuffleboard, for no one, with the exception of your flabby-armed mother with stiff hair and a mashed-potato way of looking at you, will want to hear the particulars of your pitiable existence, which doubtlessly will end as it began--with a wheeze."
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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. It 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.
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Average: (3.64)
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2.5 41
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