Marisha Pessl – Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Books Reviews Marisha Pessl
Marisha Pessl – Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Crisp writing and clever plot make first-time novelist’s mystery required reading

Special Topics in Calamity Physics is the smart, impressive debut novel from 28-year-old Marisha Pessl. She offers the story of Blue van Meer, who recounts her senior year at the exclusive St. Gallway School with a dead-on deadpan voice, quick wit and a remarkably cynical mind.

Blue has spent years traveling with her father, a political-science professor, to academic outposts around the country, “enlightening America’s unassuming and ordinary.” With a wide and varied inherited knowledge of literature, politics, science, philosophy and cinema, Blue is an academic standout. But she’s emotionally blindsided when befriended by the school’s charismatic in-crowd, the “Bluebloods,” at the behest of a strangely captivating teacher named Hannah Schneider. It’s Hannah’s shocking death that moves this story into a frightening series of mysteries and on to a final, stunning twist.

Pessl structures Blue’s story around a syllabus for a Great Works of Literature class, illustrated with “visual aids” drawn by the author and footnoted with hilarious cynicism. References pepper the text—“She was now disturbingly peaceful, (see ‘Lake Lucerne,’ A Question of Switzerland, Porter, 2000, p. 159).”

Even if her cheek does tire or grow precious at times, Pessl’s novel is well-crafted and densely plotted. Special Topics really is a special topic for students of intelligent mysteries.

Share Tweet Submit Pin