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Publisher's Summary

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 spent 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 she 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 guide - or misguide - her.

Structured around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, 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.

©2006 Marisha Pessl (P)2007 Penguin Audio, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved.

Critic Reviews

"A stunning debut...a wry send up of most of the Western canon and, most importantly, a sincere and uniquely twisted look at love, coming of age and identity." (Publishers Weekly) "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." (Kirkus) "Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics is 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." (The New York Times)

What members say

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  • Overall
  • Jeanie
  • Hendersonville, TN, USA
  • 01-12-07

Over 21 Hours of Bliss...

It's hard to believe that after over 21 hours of listening to this story, I didn't want it to end. The prologue threw me at first. It's a bit confusing and wordy, but once you get into the first chapter you'll be hooked. It was at times hilariously funny and other times deeply poignant, and as I stated above... I didn't want it to end. Blue van Meer is an all-time original and one of those fictional characters that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The book is an amazing piece of work, and I cannot praise or recommend it enough.

59 of 60 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Karen
  • Brooklyn, NY, USA
  • 02-23-07

Several stories in one

Listening to this book was a strange experience. For the first third, I have to admit that I just tolerated it. Although the narrator had a wonderful voice when speaking from the perspective of the young girl, I found the portrayal/voice of her father somewhat grating. Throughout, I found that the 'footnotes,' referencing literary works, were distracting for an audiobook, even though I probably would have enjoyed them in written form. Nevertheless, by the second third of the book, I was drawn in to the main character and her quirky band of friends, really caring about all of them. Strangely, the last third of the book switches tone quite a bit, becoming almost a mystery, which the main character strives to solve.
Ultimately, very satisfying and engaging, but --if you find yourself, like me, somewhat disinterested at the beginning-- hang in there. It gets more engaging over time.

16 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Slow Burn

I loved this book, but I understand the criticisms in other reviews. It's written in the first person, and the narrator, a 17 year old show off, takes a bit of getting used to. Ms. Card's treatment of the text is pitch perfect and goes a long way toward making the very stylized prose manageable.

I suspect this is a book you have to listen to twice. The first two thirds of the book feel like pure atmosphere, until you hit the last straightaway and suddenly everything that went before becomes critical to the most minute detail. If you give up before things start making sense, you're not going to like it.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • David
  • Scottsdale, Azerbaijan
  • 01-25-07


Like the first reviewer above I was sorry to have this one end. The plot while not silly is pretty farfetched, but it is the language, literary allusions and outrageous metaphors that make the book so compelling. If this doesn't interest you, then buy a different book.

I think Ms Card deserves 5 stars. She captures the sound of todays young women, and makes the narrator seem real. The story is entirely 1st person, (the reader only knows what the narrator knows) so the various characters have to be heard through her ears.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Sigh, I was with you till the end

Nice story, good ride, ending what a let down!
It was a cheap easy rabbitt out of a hat that just made me feel like the entire book was a wasted trip. It's like driving to Disney from MA and finding its closed. You can think of it as a nice scenic trip, maybe you had some good times, but was it worth it in the end? no.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Loved it or Hated it

This is either a "loved it/hated it" novel. Personally, I hated it. But I listened to the whole book because I am basically an optimist and I paid for it.

I was unaware of the controvery regarding the size of Ms. Pessl's advance or of her pleasing physical attributes so I was spared starting off with any prejudice. I formed my opinions before I searched for reviews and photos.

If one wants to drown in a sea, no, vast ocean of analogies, this is the book for you. I love a good simile or metaphor, figures of speech that stimulate the imagination and create the picture that is "worth a thousand words." They don't have to be beautiful, soothing, comfortable. Just check out Annie Proulx, "Close Range: Brokeback Mountain and Other Stories." I found hers to be masterful and illuminating. I rate Ms. Pessl's about 50%.

I could write another 500 words on Ms. Pessl's conceit of constructing this novel as a thesis(a dissertation embodying results of original research and especially substantiating a specific view. Merriam-Webster)complete with a final exam. I won't. If I had purchased this book in printed form, I would have skipped over them after the first 50 pages.

I found the novel, its plot, its characters, its "celebrated" twists and turns pretentious, tedious, annoying AND predictable.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I'll give it a second chance

I have to admit, I haven't finished this book yet. The first third of this book has been pure tedium, sprinkled with self-important references to other literary possibilities. But, after reading everyone else's review, I'll trudge through it. The first 7 hours could be summarized in about 1 paragraph...maybe even 1 sentence..."Dad and I moved around a lot". you can skip to hour 8, and be pretty well caught up.

17 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • Walnut Creek, CA, United States
  • 02-01-07

Good book but for young women

This is fine book, but would be more interesting for young women than for old men (like me). This would have made a really great short story, although a little unbelievable. The voice of Blue is, by far, the best part of this story. The character was wonderful. The story itself, the literary reference structure, and particularly the ending, I found weak. I think the author has lots of potential. I found the narration excellent.

26 of 31 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


This is engaging writing. It's complex, full of amusing references all kinds of literary and pop culture allusions and clever metaphors. I didn't find the plot or the characters predictable. But, after feeling so involved in the story, I found the ending unsatisfying, like a helium balloon the day after.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Way too meandering

Is there anything you would change about this book?

This author doesn't just take the scenic route in this novel, she parks at the first curve for 75% of it. I will admit that once you wade through the superfluous text, there is a pretty good story with some pretty interesting characters to be found. But it's an awful lot of work for not that great a reward. By that, I am NOT referring to the open ending - that was the one part I liked, because it's not like an Agatha Christi where the answer is in the story - there is no right answer, and it is still a good story. But it's not a great story, and the endless, looping, rambling, unnecessarily distracting prose, and the whole schtick of the 'bibliography as a story line' were just hard work that only served to further demonstrate that the actual story wasn't really good enough to either outweigh all that negative, or serve as a reward for all the hard work we readers had to put in to get to it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful