Emily's Reviews > Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
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Jun 05, 07

Read in June, 2007

I was about one-quarter of the way through this book when I had a strange revelation. It was, basically, kind of formulaic. And yet, the formula was rare and unpredictable. See, several years ago, I read Donna Tartt's The Secret History, a dark book about a group of preciously sophisticated, murderous wacked-out Classics majors at a small liberal arts college. I was captivated. Six months ago I read Daniel Handler (aka Lemony Snicket's) The Basic Eight, about a group of precociously sophisticated, murderous high school students at a San Franscisco high school. I was, again, captivated. And then I read Special Topics In Calamity Physics, about a preciously sophisticated group of prep school kids that get involved in...is it a murder? A suicide? And I thought, is this some sort of new trend in fiction? The secret, murderous high school club? If it is the new trend, I understand why, I suppose. High School can murder anyone's soul, and it's tightly knit cliques that tend to do the most murdering. (I know the Secret History took place at a college. but it was about Classics majors, and they are just plain weird.)
As a literature junkie, I also think I understand why these characters are always precociously smart- because former English majors and literature geeks dream them up, and it's such fun to dream up a character that lets you quote Joyce and Shakespeare nonstop.
So, maybe I couldn't help but take this book with a grain of salt, and maybe the main character seemed just a bit too grown up for her years. But here's the thing- I couldn't stop reading the book. Like, I was obsessively carrying it around, and during the climactic sequence, I just sat there on the bus and didn't even notice I was late to work. So it's got formulaic elements, but the solution to the mystery bears no resemblance to either Daniel Handler or Donna Tartt. And so heroine Blue seems a bit too wise for her years...so does Harry Potter, after all. I'd pick this one up if you like intrigue and don't mind a bit of academia along the way. (Yes, there are references to Joyce and Shakespeare along the way).
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Manny (new)

Manny So that's what the book is about! I'd been wondering. I liked The Secret History, sounds like I should check it out. Thanks!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

manny, i loved this book. it had great illustrations too!

message 3: by Manny (new)

Manny I'm getting the feeling that I'll read it one of these days. Thanks :)

message 4: by Thom (new) - added it

Thom Dunn Have you folk also read Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend"....grittier...hardscrabble surroundings--murderous meth-heads, fratricide, vengeance plots.....for a START.
I always felt the classes in Ancient Greek had all to do with Bunny's death in The Secret History, as the kids get lured into Dionysian ecstasy. At the same time it has the feel of a Proper British Mystery, a room full of people all guilty of something, all in denial, etc.
Bottom line, I think Tartt is BETTER that Bret Ellis Easton, but will let prevail the opinions for whom contemporary American fiction is their thing. Me ? O dropped anchor with Hamlet in the year 1600. Go figure. LOLPeace Out, Thom.

Kurt Keefner Emily, you might enjoy The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, which is a Japanese version of the murderous students story. Good movie version too, set in England.

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