SPECIAL TOPICS IN CALAMITY PHYSICS Marisha Pessl
Last year’s much-acclaimed debut novel – which I finally got around to reading – turns out to be over-inflated, in more ways than one. Author Marisha Pessl displays remarkable verve and inventiveness in both prose style and structure, but ultimately this is a book that’s too taken in by its own cleverness to leave a lasting impact.
Structured as a curriculum that reads like a sampling of Western literature’s greatest hits -- with hand-drawn visual aids to boot -- and stuffed with pop-cultural and textual allusions, Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the tale of the precocious and gullible 16-year-old Blue Van Meer, who arrives with her peripatetic father, a professor, at a North Carolina school. Here, she encounters the charismatic and enigmatic Heather Schneider, a teacher who takes under her wing a group of trendy students who call themselves the Bluebloods. Heather dies in mysterious circumstances, and the book is an extended reminiscence of Blue’s period in the school and the discoveries she makes about those close to her.
There’s more than just a nod to Nabokov and to his Lolita here – road trips though small-town America, erudite references, teenage antics, butterflies – but the look-at-me style and length militate against the undoubted ingenuity with which the material is presented. Donna Tartt meets David Foster Wallace? Hardly.
Worth your while? Not all 500+ pages of it.