You're not in Kansas anymore…

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Before I tell you about Hannah Schneider’s death, I’ll tell you about my mother’s.

I loved this book. I’ve read some reviews critizing Pessl’s literary style, but I honestly didn’t notice, or care, or both – I just loved the story. Special Topics in Calamity Physics (2006) was the debut novel of American Marisha Pessl (1977 – ). As usual, I’m too lazy to make up my own plot summary, so I’ve stolen one from The Guardian.

“The novel is the first-person narrative of Blue Van Meer, a bright teenager who since her mother’s death has travelled the country with her arrogant, pompous but devoted father Gareth, a peripatetic lecturer in political science who is, in his daughter’s eyes, “one of the pre-eminent commentators on American culture”. Blue spends her final high-school year at a private college in North Carolina. There she encounters the Bluebloods, an elite group of students who are the proteges of a charismatic film studies teacher, the compellingly mysterious Hannah Schneider, whom, we learn in the opening pages, Blue will find hanged during a camping trip. The first two-thirds of the book describes the long, fraught initiation of Blue into this glamorous and insular group, while the last third concerns Blue’s mounting suspicion that her enigmatic and beautiful teacher was somehow murdered.

[…] the novel suddenly becomes a page-turning murder mystery with a gratifyingly complex plot, a dizzying Usual Suspects-style narrative with nods to detective novelists conventional (Agatha Christie) and unconventional (Carlo Emilio Gadda). On a second reading, what appeared to be a high-school tale spatchcocked on to the story of an amateur detective is seen to be a ground-laying exercise of immense skill. Pessl’s strengths are revealed in her portrayal of the isolation and vunerability of adolescence, in Blue’s final, impenetrable loneliness and in the brave, completely satisfying ending, resolved yet open, which is the triumph of the book.”

The novel is full of references to books and old movies, each chapter using the title of another work of fiction, and it just made me want to read more. I also loved the character Blue – she is an outsider with more books than friends (sounds oddly familiary, doesn’t it?) and on her first day at a new school, she reflects that when you’re insecure you can do one of the two following things: Imagine yourself to be Grace Kelly, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Monroe og whoever OR read a book. (Once again, hello, story of my life).

It’s a good Saturday (and summer) read. Check it out.

Love, Hanna


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