This mesmerizing debut, uncannily uniting the trials of a postmodern upbringing with a murder mystery, heralds the arrival of a vibrant new voice in literary fiction
Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a darkly hilarious 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 knowledgeand is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (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 guideor misguideher.
Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class and containing ironic visual aids (drawn by the author), Pessl's debut novel is complex yet compelling, erudite yet accessible. It combines the suspense of Hitchcock, the self-parody of Dave Eggers, and the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt with a dazzling intelligence and wit entirely Pessl's own.
The novelty of the endless literary annotations, a few genuine but mostly fake, wore thin early on. What had more staying power were Pessl's entertaining turns of phrase, such as the police officer who saturated himself in Paul Revere-like cologne which "rode far ahead of him, alerting all of his impending arrival". (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).
The Sunday Times - Joan Smith
Pessl can write, but she lacks both judgment and a decent editor, who would have slashed this windy novel to half or two-thirds of its inflated length. As it stands, it is an exhausting read, arch, whimsical and too pleased with its own effects.
San Francisco Chronicle - Ann Cummins
I am willing to read a 300-hundred page novel where the driving force is an original voice with a fresh perspective, and Blue Van Meer's is such a voice. But for a murder mystery of this length, I want a little more thrill in the story. Special Topics in Calamity Physics could have used some judicious editing, some attention to scene choreography, and a little more glue to hold the plot together.
Boston.com - Caroline Leavitt
Still, despite the sprightliness of the idea, it's all a little precious, a little too clever for its own good ... While Special Topics in Calamity Physics seems prepackaged for bestsellerdom, I'm much more curious about what this talented writer will do next.
Witty and exuberant, it is part coming-of-age story, part road-trip adventure, part idiosyncratic Great Books survey, with dashes of romantic comedy and murder mystery thrown in ... Such pyrotechnics place the author alongside young, eclectic talents like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Zadie Smith."
The New York Times
The most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated ... 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."
Intriguingly structured ... 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.
The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion ... Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded.
Starred Review. Pessl's stunning debut..., a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity.
Financial Times - Melissa McClements Special Topics in Calamity Physics is a startling take on the thriller - reading like a Dawson's Creek script interspersed with various Oxford Companions to literature and selected extracts from the Encyclopaedia Britannica. It takes a while to get going, and Blue’s incessant annotation is at times overwrought, but the gripping conclusion is well worth pressing on for.
The Guardian Peter Dempsey
Published in the US to reviews of saucer-eyed admiration and already in its fifth printing there, Special Topics in Calamity Physics carries a heavy burden of expectation, which it only partly fulfils.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Al Jr Tries too hard to impress... While reading this novel, I consistently received and maintained the idea that Pessl wrote this novel with the sole intention of causing critics to gush. The endless "citations" (most of which are fraudulent), and the titling of the... Read More
Rated of 5
by angie Average Well, actually the only thing in the book that is a little compensating is its ending.It ends with a lingering feeling of mystery and secrets unrevealed! Generally it was a boring book ,with too many footnotes and references, as if the writer was... Read More
Rated of 5
by Lynn Awful book with great ending I would have rated this book lower except the ending was amazing and made up for a lot you have to go through with the writing. The previous reviewer who said it was very pretentious writing was correct. I would only read this author again if she... Read More
Rated of 5
by Scythe Tour de Force Just finished this book and so enjoyed it. Great characters, a compelling plot, and for the most part, beautifully written. I found myself quickly drawn in to Blue's life and her struggles to fit in and to become her own person. I did develop an... Read More
Rated of 5
by K Yuhas Not everything I'd hoped for This book got wonderful reviews and those got me to persevere through more than half of this annoying book, but at some point I had to admit that I just didn't see what the reviewers saw in it.
The story is dull and the writing is pretentious.
Rated of 5
by Steven Augustine Don't Get Me Started What would be scarier, the rancidly insincere hype of intelligent professionals who have a product to move regardless of its merits (or astonishing lack thereof), or a heaving, mouth-breathing mass of people so faux-literate, or dimwitted, that... Read More
A close friend
"she's not this
describes her as
person, the most
person, when it
came to her
novel, that I
have ever met."
When asked why
she chose to
write a mystery
she replies, "I
character has to
take to find the
A Fraction of the Whole is an uproarious indictment of the modern world and its mores - a rollicking rollercoaster ride from obscurity to infamy, and the moving, memorable story of a father and son whose spiritual symmetry transcends all their many shortcomings.
A moving depiction of the transformative power of first love, Hamann's first novel follows Eveline Auerbach from her high school years in East Hampton, New York, in the 1970s through her early adulthood in the moneyed, high-pressured Manhattan of the 1980s.
These are 2 of the 12 readalike suggestions for Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Members have full access to all readalikes. If you are a member, please login. To find out more about membership, click here.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...