Saturday, June 30, 2007

Book Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

I was drawn to this book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, because of the title and, I admit abashedly, because of the cover. A look at the inside recommendations showed only blurbs from periodicals, and none from any author of merit. Despite this, I picked it up and I am really glad that I did. It is, all at once, fun, interesting, spell-binding, and thought-provoking. At the least, it is a game of "How Culturally Literate, Are You?"

When I first began reading this novel, I admit I was a little put off by all of the literary and cultural annotations. I almost put the book down. When I got to the heart of my reaction, I realized I was reacting with that emotion that hits all bibliophiles at some point: why can't I have thought of/written this? Once I got past my petty jealousy, I was too far gone in the novel to put it down.

The heroine, Blue Van Meer is reminiscent of Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. She loves her father fiercely and is plucky and brave, but at the same time, vulnerable and sweet. In fact, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, reads like a classic bildungsroman or coming-of-age story. We cheer for Blue as she tackles yet another school, and begins to make friends. And while we are being charmed by this motherless genius, who is learning about the real world, we are being drawn into an exciting mystery which Pessl unravels deftly.

I very much recommend this novel. It is a high-brow romp of words and an exciting mystery.

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