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Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,6003061,461 (3.62)340
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)
Recently added byprivate library, ivan.frade, hisgirlfriday, biblio_creep, Mo_Cat, Mitoki, Amateria66, EmilyAnsell
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» See also 340 mentions

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Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

BIBLIOGRAPHIC DETAILS:

Print: 8/3/2006; Publisher ‏ : ‎ Viking Adult; ISBN 978-0670037773; 514 pages.

Digital: Yes, available.

Audio: COPYRIGHT: 10/22/2019; ISBN 9781415937778; PUBLISHER: Books on Tape; DURATION: 21:39:26; PARTS: 17; Unabridged; FILE SIZE: 624545 KB

Feature Film or tv: No.

SERIES: No

SUMMARY/ EVALUATION:
How I selected it: My husband saw the hardbound version in a Booksale and pointed it our as a possible audiobook candidate.

What it’s about: It doesn’t start with much sense of what it’s about. A father and daughter are new in town, they meet up with a woman in a grocery store, who it turns out is a teacher at the school the daughter will be attending. This teacher seems to take the daughter under her wing in terms of asking students to befriend her. The father is a college professor; the daughter an accomplished scholar.

What I thought: Initially I found the constant analogies of trivial experiences to literature annoying. It reminded me of how I am so often, as I walk through my days, reminded of various songs.. which I’ve noticed Celine Dion does too, to an annoying extent--but it also made me think, how bored someone must be with life if they must constantly find themes from literature in its unfolding. At one point, early on, I wondered if the author had once tasked herself to write a story that could believably incorporate every title mentioned in a dictionary of literature, with some non-fiction tossed in. Eventually, either the analogies got better, got fewer, or I simply got used to it…and the last third of the book is actually interesting.

AUTHOR:
Marisha Pessl

NARRATOR:
Emily Janice Card

GENRE:
Fiction; coming of age

SUBJECTS:
Academics; family relations; high school social networks; politics


RATING:
3 stars. Interesting, but too long.

STARTED READING – FINISHED READING
11/3/2022 to 11-25-2022 ( )
  TraSea | Apr 29, 2024 |
While I think I liked Night Film better, this was a really excellent read. The central mysteries are well paced and by the end I was reading rather feverishly to find out the answers. Pessl seems to like to let some questions hang at the end or her novels, but I find this works thematically and leaves you thinking and wondering for quite awhile after closing the book. ( )
  rknickme | Mar 31, 2024 |
The mystery that took shape towards the end of the book was exciting, and I liked all the references to literature. If it had been 200 pages shorter, I would've liked it a lot more. ( )
  LibrarianDest | Jan 3, 2024 |
I'm sure this is one of those books the ending of which many people would swear that they knew by the second chapter, but this sort of reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, if it was set in a high school instead of a college. There's a lot of teenaged awkwardness, angst, and cruelty, but it never seemed gratuitous to me.

I enjoyed Special Topics a great deal, and I'm eager to look up the works referenced (those that are real). There's a beautiful balance to it illustrating the subtle, subtle gradation between the colors of wisdom, wit, intelligence, and education, with varying uses of the filters of charm, beauty, loneliness, etc. Acknowledgement of bias doesn't necessarily protect one from it, awareness of the power of charm doesn't necessarily keep one from being charmed.

The lack of ultimate resolution is frustrating for me, but I think that's mostly due to the fact that my heaviest influence out of the Western canon is ancient Greek tragedy, in which there are typically punishments for every sin, and some kind of eventual justice. There's very little vindication in Special Topics, but I think part of the point of the story is that vindication is overrated, that knowing the truth is sufficient, and doesn't require being able to prove it to other people.

I'm curious about how I would've felt about the book if I'd read it when I was the same age as Blue Van Meer (impossible, not written at the time), versus how I feel about it now. In my egocentrism, it makes me wonder what precocious teenagers see when they look at us precocious-teenagers-former, what judgment is laid down on us by them. It also makes me wonder, whenever I meet a precocious-teenager-present, which of them are going to make good, and which of them are doomed. ( )
  IsraOverZero | Sep 23, 2023 |
A classic coming of age tale meets a conspiracy theory thriller roughly at its peak and the two spark an entirely new type of story. Compelling and shockingly good. ( )
  settingshadow | Aug 19, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 291 (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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For Anne and Nic
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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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Wikipedia in English (3)

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.

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Book description
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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