shmoo, July 22, 2010 (view all comments by shmoo)
If you happen to like gimmicks, then buy this book. Personally, I don't. I actually liked (not loved) this book at the beginning. But the kooky and unpredictable decay into postmodern whodunnit to me is Pessl's dodging responsibility to the story and its characters. Sorry to say it ruined the story for me.
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rusty97015, June 30, 2010 (view all comments by rusty97015)
Ugh. I hate writing negatively about a book. But, this is one of the rare books where I feel compelled to do so. The topic (teen-angst-ridden-girl) is a rich field to be mined. But, for the love of all that is bibliographically holy, this book is dripping with excessive adjectives. Sometimes, I only need to know that the car is blue. I don't need to know that it is the azure blue of Meditteranean coastal waters on a mid-afternoon in Spain five days after a lunar eclipse (alright, she didn't actually write that, but this is similar to the type of descriptions on page after page). Seriously, if you want a heavy read, this book is for you. Otherwise, go for something more fun. On the bright side, this is the first book in many years that gave me the freedom to stop reading half-way through without finishing.
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Sarena, June 21, 2009 (view all comments by Sarena)
“As a Harvard freshman recounting the events of the previous year, when her childhood "unstitched like a snagged sweater," Blue remembers being thoroughly in thrall to her father, a political science professor who changes jobs at third-tier colleges so frequently that by age 16 she's attended 24 different schools. To compensate for this rootlessness (her lepidopterist mom died in a car crash when Blue was 5), Dad has promised his daughter an undisturbed senior year in the North Carolina mountain town of Stockton, where Blue will attend the ultra-preppy St. Gallway School.
It's at St. Gallway that Blue's dedication to her pompous, theory-spouting father begins to waver. Her attention is diverted by the school's most glamorous figures, a clique of five flighty kids called the Bluebloods who meet every Sunday night for dinner at the home of their mentor, Hannah Schneider, a charismatic film teacher.”(Washington Post, 2007).
It is not often that a book gets to me the way this one did. A few days into the reading I had a dream about the characters; this is how much I identified with Pessl’s book (yes this how her last name is spelled). The main character Blue Van Meer (I love this name!) and her father Garth remind me of my best friend in high school and her father (though they did not travel, rather her dad attracted many people to his world). Garth Van Meer is a laid back political professor who thinks rather highly of himself but has little regard for other people’s feelings, especially the women who come and go. Blue calls these women June Bugs as they are attracted to her father like a bug to a flame, and like bugs and flame, nothing good comes to these women. My friend Heidi’s dad would date women for sex, but when they wanted more he pushed them away without a thought about the feelings of these women. Garth Van Meer does the same.
The book takes place during Blue’s senior year at a preppy high school, and like many teens finds herself drawn to a group of her peers while pulling away from her dad. Reading the novel as Blue starts to see her dad in a new light just as she starts to rebel, got me thinking about the relationship between parent and child. It seems to me no matter how well we think we have raised our kids, they can be highly influenced by their peers. Years of carful parenting can be thrown out the window if our children fall under the spell of other kids. At some point in our relationship our children will stop seeing us as mom or dad and start seeing us as humans. This change can sometimes be painful, for Blue it is shattering.
The charismatic teacher Hannah Schneider seems at first to be the tragic figure in the novel, the reader is told in the beginning that she is found hanging from a tree. The story is about the events that led up to this suicide (or was it?). Again, it seems Hannah is the tragic figure, but as the book unfolds it becomes clear all the characters are tragic or damaged in some way.
Pessl manages to make five spoiled preppy teens sympathetic, though not always likable, not an easy task and not one that many first time writers can pull off. I never really cared about them, but I did understand them so what ends up happening makes their response believable. What is not believable is the final plot scenario. It is not that Pessl writes a twist; rather she brings the reader in a secret that is not only unbelievable, but leaves the reader asking questions. There are a couple of serious plot holes that make the ending feel forced and drags the book down. The other thing that drags the book down is Pessl incessant use of footnotes in the text (see redundant in any dictionary). At first the footnotes drive Pessl’s description but after awhile they start to wear on the reader and become a distraction.
This is Pessl’s first novel and though I had problems with the plot and her writing style I do hope she writes more books, minus the footnotes in quotations. I would not hesitate to read another by her. After all, it is not often I dream about fictional characters.
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Jena, January 8, 2008 (view all comments by Jena)
I enjoyed this book--wanted to take in every word. (No dull descriptive parts to skip over here.) And Blue, our narrator and main character--how fantastic she is! I especially appreciated her tendency to comment via parenthetical references to works of literature, criticism and art.
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What begins as an innocent (if quirky) adolescent tale swiftly transforms into an absorbing high school whodunit. If I had to compare it to a few recent films, it manages to come across both as gritty as Brick and as refreshing as Juno, but with a healthy amount of vintage Gothic inspiration threading its way through the story as well. That tightrope walk of pathos and preciousness has never been navigated so confidently.
by Nathan W.
Suspenseful, dark, and extremely funny, Marisha Pessl's debut novel is an impressive feat indeed. Blue van Meer is one of the most intelligent and awkward teenage protagonists in recent years, and her story — which manages to be both a murder mystery and a coming-of-age exploration — is intensely literary (and packed with allusions), as well as emotionally honest and genuinely moving. Special Topics in Calamity Physics is diabolically clever, and a challenging and rewarding read.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day"
by Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor,
"Chutzpah, Marisha Pessl has — and in abundance. [A] thoroughly impressive debut....Fans of Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and those who enjoyed the footnotes in Susannah Clarke's fabulous Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as much as the plot, head for the bookstore with all speed. If you prefer a more Shaker-like type of storytelling, devoid of verbal curlicues and ironic flourishes, you might want to drop out of this particular class." (read the entire CSM review)
by Liesl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review,
"The joys of this shrewdly playful narrative lie not only in the high-low darts and dives of Pessl's tricky plotting, but in her prose, which floats and runs as if by instinct, unpremeditated and unerring."
by Los Angeles Times,
"Anything familiar about this hip, ambitious and imaginative book is easily overshadowed by its many pleasures....There are many wonderful young writers out there, but it's always refreshing to find another with such confidence, who takes such joy in the magical tricks words can perform."
"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."
"This blockbuster debut, over 500 pages chock-full of literary and pop cultural references and illustrations by Pessl herself, demands attention."
"Witty and exuberant...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."
"All the stars seem aligned for the twenty-something author."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Donna Tartt goes postmodern in this eclectically intellectual murder mystery....The writing is clever, the text rich with subtle literary allusion....Sharp, snappy fun for the literary-minded."
by Janet Maslin, the New York Times,
"The most flashily erudite first novel since Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated."
by Los Angeles Times,
"Hip, ambitious and imaginative."
Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, 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.
"This terrific first novel is a twisted thriller set at a private school where bad things happen to teens on a leafy campus. Part Dead Poets Society, part Heathers. Entirely addictive."—Glamour
“Do you know what it took for Socrates enemies to make him stop pursuing the truth?”
Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom's Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.
Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devils Advocate, the Partys underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the schools new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter's instinct, and her own troubled past.
The Year of the Gadfly is an exhilarating journey of double-crosses, deeply buried secrets, and the lifelong reverberations of losing someone you love. Following in the tradition of classic school novels such as A Separate Peace, Prep, and The Secret History, it reminds us how these years haunt our lives forever.
A major debut novel of psychological suspense about a daring art heist, a cat-and-mouse waiting game, and a small-town girl's mesmerizing transformation
On the grubby outskirts of Paris, Grace restores bric-a-brac, mends teapots, re-sets gems. She calls herself Julie, says shes from California, and slips back to a rented room at night. Regularly, furtively, she checks the hometown paper on the Internet. Home is Garland, Tennessee, and there, two young men have just been paroled. One, she married; the other, shes in love with. Both were jailed for a crime that Grace herself planned in exacting detail. The heist went bad—but not before she was on a plane to Prague with a stolen canvas rolled in her bag. And so, in Paris, begins a cat-and-mouse waiting game as Graces web of deception and lies unravels—and she becomes another young woman entirely.
Unbecoming is an intricately plotted and psychologically nuanced heist novel that turns on suspense and slippery identity. With echoes of Alfred Hitchcock and Patricia Highsmith, Rebecca Scherms mesmerizing debut is sure to entrance fans of Gillian Flynn, Marisha Pessl, and Donna Tartt.
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