Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Posted February 28, 2011 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

by Marisha Pessl

Publisher: Penguin Books on August 3, 2006
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Target Age Group: Adult, Young Adult
Content Warnings: Death, Suicide

Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

After a childhood 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 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.


I’m still wrapping my head around this book. It’s very detailed, incredibly well-researched. I’m impressed. It’s not the type of book where you feel good walking away from. The ending didn’t feel like an ending, more like an ending interrupted, but I think that is exactly what the writer (Marisha Pessl) intended. In that way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the ending. The reader is left thinking and wondering. We can fill in the blanks for ourselves.

In some ways, it was difficult to read this book just because it was set up like an incredibly long MLA essay. I found myself skimming over things when they got incredibly scientific. Only once did I feel like I had missed something when I skipped sections, and the time that I did feel as though I missed something, going back and re-reading it twice, thoroughly didn’t give me any more closure. I think those who read this book very closely will have it figured out long before I did.

I found the writing to be very careful and very deliberate. I think this book is an excellent example to aspiring writers about the importance of relevant information and careful editing – every word in this book was there for a reason. Regardless of whether or not it was an enjoyable book, it was an excellent piece of writing.

As for the characters, they were remarkably real-to-life. If you’re looking for a happy ending or beautiful, romantic characters, there isn’t a single one to be found. All the characters are either depressingly shallow people (note: I said people, not characters. The characters are very round.) or else they are a lying caricature of themselves. It’s difficult to find a single character to sympathise with, to care about. Mostly, as the reader, I found that I wanted answers. That was why I kept reading. But I didn’t read the last chapter, which was in the format of a “final exam”. I had read enough, and I think that even without that supposedly knowing the deepest, darkest secret that chapter may reveal, I know enough.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★★
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★★
Pacing: ★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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