Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl, Viking, 2006, 514 pp

Marisha Pessl's long-awaited second novel, Night Film, was published the other day and I still had this one sitting on my shelf, in hardcover, unread, since 2006. Actually, I started it when I bought it, right there in the bookstore cafe. But this is a book you need to be in the mood for. I guess I wasn't in the mood back then.

I don't care what any reviewer, jealous author, or reader says, I loved this book! Yes, she is much too clever for her tender years, and long-winded, and over writes her thousands of facts, ideas, and opinions. I think all of that is a brilliant example of showing and not telling. Marisha Pessl shows what type of nerdy, intellectually self-confident young lady her heroine, Blue van Meer is. I have met girls like that in college and in bookstores. 

Gareth van Meer, Blue's father, unabashedly a take off on Humbert Humbert (that disgusting man who is Lolita's pedophile) has made Blue what she is. He does not abuse her sexually but emotionally, being a lying liar, and yet in the end you realize he has prepared her for the inevitable.

In fact, every character in this novel is a masterpiece, each one essential to the underlying mystery of Blue's life. Watching Blue add up the clues, catching on to all the sly satire (maybe not as accomplished as Nabokov's but darn close) and seeing Blue deal with it, was some of the most fun reading I had all summer. 

Now I am ready for Night Film. I predict Ms Pessl will surprise me again.

(Special Topics in Calamity Physics is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)


  1. I loved loved loved Special Topics in Calamity Physics. I'm so glad that you did, too. As soon as I heard about Night Film, I knew I would be reading it as soon as I could. Pessl is a genius and Calamity proved it. Great review for a great book!

  2. Yay! Don't we love a female genius?

  3. I felt so in the know this afternoon when there was a review of Night Film on NPR!

  4. Thank you for sharing your review of Special Topics In Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl with me. I now have a renewed interest in my desire to read this novel.

    1. You're welcome. I hope you like it!