Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl | Mystery & Thrillers |
ISBN: 0670916110 Global Overview for this book
Registered by livrecache of Hobart, Tasmania Australia on 5/24/2007
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9 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Thursday, May 24, 2007
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pessl's stunning debut is an elaborate construction modeled after the syllabus of a college literature course—36 chapters are named after everything from Othello to Paradise Lost to The Big Sleep—that culminates with a final exam. It comes as no surprise, then, that teen narrator Blue Van Meer, the daughter of an itinerant academic, has an impressive vocabulary and a knack for esoteric citation that makes Salinger's Seymour Glass look like a dunce. Following the mysterious death of her butterfly-obsessed mother, Blue and her father, Gareth, embark, in another nod to Nabokov, on a tour of picturesque college towns, never staying anyplace longer than a semester. This doesn't bode well for Blue's social life, but when the Van Meers settle in Stockton, N.C., for the entirety of Blue's senior year, she befriends—sort of—a group of eccentric geniuses (referred to by their classmates as the Bluebloods) and their ringleader, film studies teacher Hannah Schneider. As Blue becomes enmeshed with Hannah and the Bluebloods, the novel becomes a murder mystery so intricately plotted that, after absorbing the late-chapter revelations, readers will be tempted to start again at the beginning in order to watch the tiny clues fall into place. Like its intriguing main characters, this novel is many things at once—it's a campy, knowing take on the themes that made The Secret History and Prep such massive bestsellers, a wry sendup of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

There's a website for the book at http://www.calamityphysics.com/main.htm. I'm not quite sure what it proves.

Offered as a bookray 5 November


Journal Entry 2 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Sunday, November 04, 2007
I've just finished reading this book. I'm not sure whether it's singularly inspired, derivitive, pretentious, pointless, or a combination of all four. Her use of metaphor was sometimes brilliant and at other times way off the mark, to the point of being ludicrous. Its structure immediately reminded me of Donna Taitt's Secret History (and I said that without referring back to the cut-and-paste that I used in the earlier JE). The use of endless citations irritated me -- clearly a device to show how erudite in reading the narrator was, but for me it was simply distracting. She waffled on enough without that! The plot was, in the end, totally pointless, and I nearly didn't finish it at all, because I thought the author had clearly lost it. Completely. (I expect it was the narrator supposedly exhibiting that, but REALLY it just served to make me tired, to the point where I flipped to the end and realised, with a sinking heart, that it didn't help! To be able to make any sense of the book, I was going to have read on, and complete it.) And the number of proofing errors, as well as those of fact, was just startling! How can books be let out of publishing stables like that!

But I have read it, and now I offer it to other readers. It got immense critical acclaim from the few reviews (all American) that I read -- which to my immense gratification picked up exactly the same reservations that I have -- when they weren't busy lusting over the author photo. (She was born in 1977, and is drop-dead gorgeous!) So clearly I'm missing something.

So at long last, I shall offer this as a bookray. (I hope to hand it to star-light first as then I shan't have to waste money on posting this trade-sized edition.)

Journal Entry 3 by livrecache at By post in Melbourne, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases on Saturday, November 10, 2007

Released 12 yrs ago (11/10/2007 UTC) at By post in Melbourne, A Bookcrossing member -- Controlled Releases



Off on its first leg as a bookray

Journal Entry 4 by star-light from Melbourne CBD, Victoria Australia on Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Arrived today. I'm going to read Animal's People first, then this one. I'll try not to take too long.

Journal Entry 5 by star-light from Melbourne CBD, Victoria Australia on Tuesday, January 01, 2008
I read to the end of Part 1, then took a peek at the end and decided to give up on this book. It was too long-winded for me and the ending didn't seem fantastic enough to make working out how the story got there worth it.

However there was one quotation I liked:
"Always say you're seriously into engineering. People don't know what it is and they won't ask because it sounds mind-numbing."
I can certainly relate to that!

This is now on its way to catsalive.

Journal Entry 6 by catsalive from Rooty Hill, New South Wales Australia on Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Thanks star-light.

Journal Entry 7 by catsalive from Rooty Hill, New South Wales Australia on Wednesday, January 30, 2008
I have tried to get into this several times but just can't do it. Commuting by train used to be good for hard-to-start books but I don't do it any more. So, I'm posting it to lakelady2282 tomorrow.

Thanks for including me, livrecache.

Journal Entry 8 by lakelady2282 from Lake Macquarie, New South Wales Australia on Monday, February 04, 2008
My God! It's enormous. Looks interesting though. Thanks livrecache and catsalive for posting it. I will see how I go.

Journal Entry 9 by lakelady2282 from Lake Macquarie, New South Wales Australia on Saturday, February 23, 2008
Sorry to be such a nuisance but I've been very naughty. Sometimes when it comes to bookrings I'm like a kid with sweets at Christmas - I just cram too many in my mouth and unfortunately (excuse the metaphor) I'm going to have to spit this one out. I loved the idea of the syllabus but the writing is just too smart and disjointed for me. Will pm Fleebo.

Journal Entry 10 by lakelady2282 at Bookring in by mail, a fellow bookcrosser -- Controlled Releases on Saturday, March 01, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (3/1/2008 UTC) at Bookring in by mail, a fellow bookcrosser -- Controlled Releases



Journal Entry 11 by Fleebo on Monday, March 31, 2008
Received by mail, thank you. I am sorry that it has taken so long to journal - it has been sitting in a postbox while I was overseas.

Journal Entry 12 by Fleebo on Wednesday, April 30, 2008
I quite enjoyed this book.
It is pretentious (most definitely). The first two thirds of the book could easily have been compressed into half the pages, and I thought that Blue's Dad was just an awful bore with way too much to say, considering that the story wasn't about him. However, after the End Of Act 2 Climax, it changed. The Bluebloods just fell right out of the story, (making me wonder why they were ever included,) and Blue's investigations had me going "Oh, hey now. Leaping to conclusions, much? That's just ludicrous. Don't be ridic- Oh. Oh, well then, actually it all fits now and a lot of the apparently meaningless bits were there for a reason. A little foreshadowing might have helped my waffle tolerance, you know."
But it's still ludicrous! Kind of the opposite of Ockham's Razor: The most complicated, unlikely solution is the correct one, like in any episode of the X-Files. And the question which I thought was the main one, remained unanswered.
Still, I did have some fun reading it. Thanks for sharing! I will contact RockDg9 now.

I just had a little look at the website. Very amusing! I especially like the Cliff's Notes - something every book on a course syllabus should have. Of course, this particular one does not reward you for cheating...

Journal Entry 13 by RockDg9 from Toowoomba, Queensland Australia on Friday, May 09, 2008
She's a monster! Looks like I'll have something to do this weekend. lol!

Journal Entry 14 by RockDg9 from Toowoomba, Queensland Australia on Saturday, May 17, 2008
This was a fantastic book! It was gloriously pretentious - woven together beautifully and with such ease. Sure it was a little bit slow in places, but it was one hell of a ride.

Journal Entry 15 by newk from Adelaide, South Australia Australia on Monday, June 02, 2008
sorry I have had this a week and not made a note, or even read these entries.
What can I say except that I too cannot get into it. There was a time when I would have worked at a book like this and maybe finished it over several months, having read other books in between. But not now, especially as there is someone else in line. I shall PM crimson-tide tonight.
I can only agree with some of the earlier reviews and "pretentious" is indeed the word that most springs to mind.
There may always be that gnawing feeling that I am missing something special, but i can always get another copy I guess. Thnks livrecache for organising and all those in between.
Happy bookcrossing

Journal Entry 16 by wingcrimson-tidewing from Balingup, Western Australia Australia on Monday, June 09, 2008
Oh oh . . . this is a fat one isn't it! And unfortunately it isn't the only bookring book to arrive today. After not having one lob in for over six weeks it is absolutely astounding how that happens! It won't be next, but I'll get there. It has gathered a wide range of reactions I see, so should be interesting.
Thanks livrecache and newk (and all of you of course).

Journal Entry 17 by wingcrimson-tidewing from Balingup, Western Australia Australia on Sunday, June 29, 2008
Finished this one a few days back, but had to have a bit of 'rumination time' before I could put my reactions and thoughts into print. It's a very good thing that I don't have a 50 or 60 page rule (or even a 100 page rule), or I would have turfed this book very early on. It's a very strange book; it morphed literally before my eyes into something intelligent and interesting, while continuing to be one of the most annoying books I've ever read!

The word everyone comes up with is pretentious, and it was the first word that came to me too, as I struggled past the never ending citations (both real and imaginary), references and rambling parenthetical facts and asides. Then I realised that the author was turning the 'pretentiousness' into an art form, and enjoying herself while doing it, with tongue held firmly in cheek. It is gloriously & unashamedly pretentious. It is Blue's story, and Blue is an extremely intelligent, precocious, unbelievably well read, self absorbed, very serious, pedantic, and somewhat anally retentive sixteen year old! She can't help herself.

The trouble is that this writing style is extremely irritating for the reader, even without it being tediously overplayed. I found the rambling asides more irritating than the referencing (which I learned to gloss over), as even though occasionally they presented some quite interesting facts, the flow of the narrative was interrupted too much. The other major problem is that Marisha Pessl is not a 'good' writer, especially when stringing together those woeful metaphors. There are some books where the beauty and the brilliance of the writing will get you through what is otherwise a pretty dull plot line. This book is not one of them.

However it did become a much more interesting read in Part 3 when the mystery and intrigue stepped up, and as Fleebo said, the Bluebloods were more or less dispensed with. I don't understand why they were given so much prominence in the story, resulting in the first two parts being way too long. The build up was necessary of course to provide all those small clues, but it was overdone. Ignoring that though, by the time I got to the end I thought that the overall premise (looking back) was a good one, reasonably well structured and with a twist at the end which was not altogether unrealistic. I also really liked the fact that not all was totally explained.

What was lacking was someone with experience and a firm hand to cut away all those extraneous bits and stop it being so overblown it kept tripping over itself. Better editing I guess. And definitely a better proof reader. It may then have turned out to be much more accessible and less irritating; and not turned off a whole host of potential readers before it engaged them. Even in this small sample of eight intelligent and dedicated readaholics, only 50% managed to get very far past go.

As for the cover . . . !!

Right, I've rambled on enough now. This is the end of the bookray as freelunch has found his own copy and dropped off the list. I may see if anyone in the VBB OZ is brave enough to try it out.


ps: apparently there is a movie on the way.

Journal Entry 18 by wingcrimson-tidewing from Balingup, Western Australia Australia on Sunday, August 10, 2008
Reserved for the OZ VBB.

Journal Entry 19 by Fleebo on Monday, August 11, 2008
A movie on the way? Surely a story needs an ending which is actually related to the climax, to be made into a movie? How odd. Well, at least a movie version won't have time for all the citations.

Journal Entry 20 by wingcrimson-tidewing from Balingup, Western Australia Australia on Saturday, October 11, 2008
Chosen by livrecache from Round Eleven of the OZ VBB.
Wot! . . . you want to read it *again*?

Journal Entry 21 by wingcrimson-tidewing at Balingup, Western Australia Australia on Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Released 11 yrs ago (10/14/2008 UTC) at Balingup, Western Australia Australia



Posted off to livrecache Wednesday 15th.

Journal Entry 22 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Yes, it's back with me. No wonder you're bemused, crimson-tide, but thank you It seemed so abandoned on the VBB shelf. I don't expect I'll read it through again (and I expect I shall give the film a big miss) but I'm curious to flick through it again now that others have made their comments. (One of the nice things about being in a quasi-bookclub environment.)

But I'm not really sure why I wanted it again. Maybe I'll set it travelling again at the Melbourne meet up tomorrow evening (where I - and others – will finally get to meet freelunch).

Journal Entry 23 by livrecache from Hobart, Tasmania Australia on Thursday, January 15, 2009
Sending to DrCris who has expressed an interest in it. I'm sending her a whole heap of stuff. I'll be interested to see what she makes of it - if she ever gets to it, given her other interests!

Journal Entry 24 by livrecache at Caulfield, Victoria Australia on Thursday, January 15, 2009

Released 11 yrs ago (1/15/2009 UTC) at Caulfield, Victoria Australia



Actually posted today . . .

Journal Entry 25 by DrCris from Templestowe, Victoria Australia on Monday, January 19, 2009
I have heard good things about this novel and was tempted when the bookring came up. I am glad I have a chance to read it without the pressure!

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