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on 11 January 2008
There's no accounting for taste, - I mean, 1 star - ugh! This is a great read and really rattles along towards the end. The 'pretentious' writing style (trope overkill) is deliberate (and fun, if you go with it) - as the characters have, quite literally, their own pretentions - and that's why the 'overwritten' style works - Duh! OK, you need to get past the 200 page mark and from there on in, I assure you, it gets fast and dark. You also have to work out what is going on, - I'm not so sure some people could handle that, judging by some of the reviews here.
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on 19 July 2007
This ought to have been a book I would love. The plot of Marisha Pessl's "Special Topic in Calamity Physics" focuses on a group of teenager and the relationship they have with their school teacher, Hannah Schnieder. The narrator, Blue de Meer, tells the story of how she came to be a part of the group and how she is rejected by them after Hannah's death.

For me, it wasn't so much that the story didn't work. More that the style seemed forced. Pessl skillfully references a large number of books, in her chapter titles and in Blue's narrative. This didn't bother me. Rather that Blue seemed a little self-concious in a I'm-writing-my-biography way. Another thing was how Blue's interest in the group did not eventually become mine. Her waiting for an incident to happen (her childhood is spent travelling with her father wherever he lectures) made the story seem stitlted because Blue appears to need this to prove her perceptive abilities. Again, I do not have so much a problem with unreliable narrators and "Speical Topics in Calamity Physics" was not a difficult read itself. I just didn't enjoy this book. Hannah, as the figure whos story Blue tries to work out, is also with a lack of mystery arounbd her. The novel is clever, yet it seemed to me to place more emphasis on that then narrative. A lot of my inability to enjoy this was to do with Pessl's attempt at a natural style; that of a young woman, Blue, who is limited by inexperience.

5/10
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VINE VOICEon 4 February 2007
Initially i was drawn to this book for its unusual cover, and didn't know anything about it but once i started reading i loved it from the very first page, it is unique, intelligent and beautifully written. And if thats not enough it has some fantastic literary references filtered throughout.

The book tells the story of Blue Van Meer who has spent most of her life up to this point travelling around the country with her eccentric, academic father who accepts temporary teaching posts at various obscure universities but never stays in one place long enough for Blue to settle and make friends. Until her senior high school year in which they settle long enough for Blue to strike up an unusual friendship with the Bluebloods, and off beat group of teens who share an unusually close friendship with the equally off beat teacher Hannah Schneider (think The Secret History) and this is where things start to get interesting for Blue.

This really is a fantastic book, Blue is a captivating character. One night i was literally sitting on the edge of my bed, unable to put it down! Destined to become a classic im sure.
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on 4 September 2008
a) Ignore the title - for all intents and purposes, it is completely irrelevant. I believe Stephen Hawking bought the audiobook and was furious. (Joke)

b) Ignore the Guardian Review extract describing the book as "A page-turning murder mystery...unputdownable."

c) Ignore the cover description which centres the book firmly around "murder" and mystery" and asks "has Blue stumbled upon something so dark, so devious, that her whole world is about to be flipped upside down?"

If you set these expectations aside and try to enjoy the book for what it is rather than what made you buy it, you have a reasonable chance of enjoying it for what it is.

The author is obviously erudite and, whilst talented and in possession of a reasonable plot, far too long is spent building up to the murder/suicide (which occurs on page 335 of 503)by which time I was only reading the book to put myself out of my misery.
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on 20 September 2007
... "no imposing character in a book may be cleverer than its miniscule author" (p.454, "Special Topics In Calamity Physics", Marisha Pessl (Penguin, 2007)) How true.
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on 6 January 2016
its a book no two readers are the same go by your own judgement not that of some failed deluded wannabee literary critic who crave attention as per the above posters
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on 10 January 2014
The first word that springs to mind to sum up this book is pretentious. Why use one word when you can use twenty three and why use nouns when you can turn them into horrible, ghastly verbs-"ivying"?? I think not. Using titles of well known books as chapter headings seriously irritated me as there was no point- it was just being done for effect- almost like the author was saying- look how many books I've read- so what I feel. Overly long, irritating, pretentious and verbose. I am more than capable of reading intelligent books and I almost had the feeling that this book was saying "if you don't like my prose you are stupid and incapable of understanding". I felt talked down to- not good- life's too short- read something else!
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on 16 June 2007
I'm another who likes my novels complex and absorbing and Special Topics got off to a good start. I enjoyed the plot device of each chapter cross-referencing with a famous literary work and, to a lesser extent, the inbuilt citations (although this particular pudding was definitely over-egged and grated after a time). However, the core essentials of any story, plot and characterisation, both proved paper thin. Even the 'heroine', Blue van Meer left me totally uninterested, whilst the other minor characters were mere stereotypical ciphers. The plot was predictable and not particularly credible or gripping, starting to wear my patience out even before half way by which time all the cleverness had become simply irritating. Keeping going became increasingly hard work, and eventually I simply skim read to the end to confirm my suspicions.
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on 7 September 2007
Maybe when I saw the chapter titles I should have known I was in for literary pretensions. However, I will admit it starts well and amuses. However, most of the book is just pointless ramblings and I found myself jumping through pages and chapters looking for something of merit to read. It also starts to get interesting towards the end with a possible conspiracy theory, which then peters out, into insignificance.

The book is eventually like its characters, pointless. Avoid.
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on 10 August 2007
I'm not sure I qualify to review this book, having read only the first chapter, but feel compelled to because of the gulf between my own experience of the book and the the high volumes of praise heaped upon it here. Were we reading the same book?

I thoroughly expected to enjoy this book; having read the blurb and looked at the intriguing structure of the novel and its reference to many works that I've read and studied during the course of both my BA and Master's in English, I was quite looking forward to seeing how Pessl's work would engage with other texts. I found, however, that despite the fact I can count on the fingers of one hand the amount of books that I have given up on over the years, Pessl's quickly became one of them. The reason?

The narrative voice (in the opening chapter) was perhaps the most irritating that I have ever come across and the quality of the writing absolutely dire. It reminded me, in fact, of some of the lower quality pieces of GCSE original writing coursework that I have read and marked as a teacher. It pleases me to say, in fact, that I have read many (much) better pieces of writing from classes of 15 and 16-year-olds. Maybe it was precisely the point that the narrator sounded so adolescent, but to be honest I didn't wish to waste what little free time I have reading writing of such poor quality.

So why the 5-star reviews? I can only think that the quality of writing improves markedly as the novel progresses? Somebody please enlighten me....
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