Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perplexing and strange, 3 Nov. 2008
This review is from: Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Paperback)
It seems that readers of this book have not known quite what to make of it. Professional and amateur reviewers alike are clearly divided in their opinions. Even Penguin's marketing department doesn't seem to be sure - they have given it a cover with squiggly chick-lit lettering, even the strange ferny, twiggy devices that are a chick-lit signal but they've chosen a black background. (What audience are they trying to reach?)

It has outstanding virtues - a compelling plot, astonishing imagery and great complexity - and balancing flaws. In particular, it seems to have bypassed any editing. Maybe publishers are cutting back on editors these days..? In any case, it seems to be far longer than necessary. The faults, though, are not great enough to mar the whole.

As has already been said, Calamity Physics resembles The Secret History only very superficially. The author herself points us at Nabokov but I was reminded also of Pynchon (Lot 49 rather than Gravity's Rainbow) and Eco. There are points which verge on magical realism, others under the spell of detective fiction. It's a consciously cinematic book, with reminders of film noir and Hitchcock as well as Antonioni. At times, we seem to be verging on the territory of David Lynch. Though it seems to have absorbed everything vaguely odd ever written or flimed, it is not strictly like anything but itself.

It seems to me that readers, including the paid critics, have nonetheless approached this book too straightforwardly. In general, they seem to take Blue's solution at face value. The Final Exam should indicate that this is not what the author wants us to do and that a more sceptical, inquisitive reading is needed. (The Exam in itself is, I suggest, more red herrings than clues.) And when one thinks about it, there is very little to suggest that Blue has reached anything like the right conclusions. How reliable is she in either her deductions or her observations?

What evidence is there that Hannah Schneider was actually murdered? Is she even dead?

Maybe the best comparison is not with the Secret History but with the Quincunx - what you seem to see may not be at all what is happening.
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