Monday, September 6, 2010

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl


This is one of those books that people will wither love or hate. The book is full of book references (actual references like it was a thesis ) and it's very wordy (I counted one sentence that was 11 lines long). So most likely it's not everyone's cup of tea. I for one happened to love it.

I didn't know anything about the book, I didn't even read the back cover, so I had no idea if it was going to be a romance, detective story, comedy or something else. To be honest, after finishing it I'm still not sure, I guess a mixture of all of the above? I don't even really care. Exactly because I couldn't guess at all where the story was going to go, I was sucked into it and couldn't put the book down.

The pains of being a teenager were mixed with the "whodunnit" parts very smoothly. The protagonist, Blue, lived through the heartbreak, awkwardness and the rebelliousness that goes with being a teenager, all the while being also mature enough to not being annoying (as, let's face it, most teenagers are). Her relationship with the Bluebloods, especially what happened after the camping trip, was described very well. It was realistic, this is the way teenagers act, the group mentality takes over and there'll always be someone left out. The book also had a lot of dry and evil humour, exactly the kind that I appreciate. So, even though maybe the "whodunnit" parts were not that easy to accept, the novel as a whole was a very good read. And the ending didn't let me down. In these types of books where the tension builds up during the story, the ending usually falls flat and leaves a sour taste in ones mouth. Luckily, not in this one.

I loved the ending. Dad didn't make a final appearance watching on a remote hill top his daughter's graduation, which I was half expecting to happen and it was very cleverly pointed out by the author that she knew everyone would expect it. Even though the storyline is quite out there in parts, in the ending there was a healthy dose of realism. All the loose ends were tied in a way that felt realistic. There was no grand finales, no teary farewells, no grand gestures or sudden declarations of love. There really wasn't even an ending, it was pretty much left for the reader to decide what really happened. Usually I hate those types of endings, I want to know "the facts", what "really" happened, who was right and wrong. But in this case, as in life, you don't know, it's left for you to decide who and what to believe in and in this case it was the right choice.

So ii, which category do you belong? The lovers or the haters?

I liked this one. For a moment there, towards the end, I got skeptical. But the very ending saved it. So I guess I'll join in the loving bandwagon.

I liked how you summed up the book, Madeline. I, probably also because I literally put the book down 15 seconds ago, can't really get a cohesive sentence to describe it. I liked the references, and I liked how, once Blue started experiencing life herself, she stopped using other peoples words and started using her own. You saw the references becomes fewer and further in between. Then, once life got to be almost too much for her, the references were back, she fell back on what she had read instead of what she felt.

Of course, the list maniac in me went over the "Core Curriculum" with a fictitious pencil and ticked off the books I've read, and making note of the ones I haven't yet. Based on the ones I had read, the titles did fit the chapters they were assigned to. And the final exam was a beauty. That's really how it is in real life: sooner or later we have to take stock and measure what we have learned about any particular aspect of our life. We just don't normally put them in writing. But they're true-or-false, multiple questions alright. And like in life, the answer to the essay is in the question.

So yeah, I liked this. Mads, you want to add something?


I think that's about it. The verdict is in and we have deemed this book worthy of reading so of you go, happy reading everyone! ;)

For additional info, see the book's website.
A plot summary and a book review, together with author interview and book club discussion questions, can be found here.

We gained a whopping 20 points for The 4 Months challenge by counting this for the category "Read a book by an author born in July, August, September or October".


  1. I read this book three years ago and it's taken me that long to find someone else who's actually read it too! I really loved the author's style but hated the ending. Makes for a good comparative essay though. Great review.

  2. Well, now you've got two of us here! :D I know I wouldn't have read the book if it wasn't on our list (for some reason I thought it looked both intimidating and boring), so I guess I can relate to why people might not choose to read this. But they should! :)

  3. Yes, and we loved the book. The ending was interesting. And I loved comparative commentaries back in school!

    Madeline, are you saying people should listen to us, and do as we tell them to do? *gasp* Quelle horreur!

  4. I loved the Final Exam at the end, and thought it provided a unique way to have the ending. It was long though, I'm sure it took me all of October last year to read.