Thursday, December 06, 2007

Celebraaate Good Times (And Special Topics in Calamity Physics)

I'm home. ON A THURSDAY NIGHT!!! That's been unheard of this semester. For the last four months I've worked all day and FOUR nights a week, so I'm so glad to be at home, watching a movie (Beauty Shop), cooking dinner (turkeyburger steak, gravy, grilled mushrooms and onions) and bloggin' (hello!). And I'm in my pj' natural habitat.

Last night wasn't bad either. When I got home and got my grubby little paws back on Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I read like a maniac. By the time I got down to the final 14 pages I could barely keep my eyes open. Quite literally, they were fluttering like a butterfly on crack. In a valiant effort to stay awake and finish I did a few laps around the living room, took a shower, and sat in an uncomfortable position. And it was so very worth it.

Blue Van Meer is a very special teenager. The daughter of a political science professor, she's incredibly well read and in telling her story often annotates her thoughts. Many a critic has compared Marisha Pessl's debut novel with Vladimir Nabokov's work for the sheer mass of allusions and references to culture, literature, etc. Pessl herself ducks the comparisons by pointing out that many of the so called annotations are fictional references. One thing is for sure, though--Pessl has a nice grip on literary allusions because those are the real deal. Not to mention, Pessl outlines the chapters like a syllabus, with every chapter named after a famous work of literature. To further the literary allusions, each chapter takes on some theme associated with the corresponding novel. Fun, fun, fun!

Blue's tale opens with the lines, "Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it." And magnificent it is. Blue continues by recounting the night she discovered the body of her beloved teacher, Hannah Schneider, dangling from a tree by an orange extension cord. Everything mushrooms out in captivating detail and expertly timed bits.

The whirlwind begins to take shape when Blue and her father, Gareth Van Meer, settle in a western North Carolina mountain town for Blue's senior year of high school at the swanky St. Gallway school. Blue soon becomes acquainted with the enigmatic and doomed Hannah Schneider and the students who worship her. The Bluebloods--Charles, Nigel, Milton, Jade, and Leulah--are reluctant to accept Blue into their exclusive circle, but at Hannah's urging, they give in.

This book is really hard to describe, but the best I can do is a combination of coming-of-age story, academic novel, and mystery. Blue's entanglement with the Bluebloods is the catalyst for a swirl of twists and turns and heartbreaking surprises. However, the biggest difference in this novel and other mystery novels I've read--and from The Secret History, which it often reminded me of--is Blue's buoyant sense of humor. I often found myself laughing out loud at her sardonic wit and the intellectual banter between her and her father.

Pessl's writing is far more detailed than most authors today (the books weighs in at 514 pages), but that ends up part of the charm. I felt thoroughly engrossed in Blue's all its humor, mystery, and at times, uncomfortable atmosphere.

Some of my favorite passages:

"'To my daughter, ' Dad said grandly, clinking his wineglass on the rim of my Coke. A middle-aged woman at the table next to us with heavy hardware jewelry and a thickset husband (whom she seemed anxious to unload armfuls of shopping bags) beamed at us for the thirtieth time (Dad, a stirring example of Paternity: handsome, devoted, wearing tweed). 'May your studies continue to the end of your days," he said. 'May you walk a lighted path. May you fight for truth--your truth, not someone else's--and may you understand, above all things, that you are the most important concept, theory and philosophy I have ever known.'

The woman was practically blown off her seat by Dad's eloquence. I thought he was paraphrasing an Irish drinking toast, but later I did check Killing's Beyond Words (1999) and couldn't find it. It was Dad."


"'Somewhere in a woman's room there is always something, an object, a detail, that is her, wholly and unapologetically,' Dad said. 'With your mother, of course, it was the butterflies. Not only could you ascertain the extreme care she took in preserving and mounting them, how much they meant to her, but each one shed a tiny yet persistent light on the complex woman she was.'"

...and when observing a cheesy painting in a date's house, Blue says...

"Nimbly I stepped around the pair of green plastic gym shorts dead on the floor and leaned in to examine it. I guessed it probably was real, though it wasn't one of the 'light fests' where the artist 'screwed convention and took painting by the testicles,' as Penzance described Turner's hazy, almost completely abstract work (p. viii, Introduction). This painting was an oil, yet dark, depicting a tiny boat seemingly lost in a storm at sea, painted in hazy grays, browns and greens. There were slurpy waves, a wooden boat forceful as a matchbox, a moon, wan and small and a little bit of an acrophobe as it peered fretfully through the clouds."

There are a number of other passages I could quote, but maybe that can hold you over until you run out and grab this book up. The greatest indication I can give of my enjoyment of this book is the rating.

10/10!!! A perfect score. And that, my friends, is a rarity. I expect this gem will rule my list of Top 10 favorite books I read in 2007.

And isn't it completely unfair to the rest of us that Marisha Pessl (pictured) is gorgeous, smart, AND incredibly talented?? :)


  1. I have heard about this book a few times and now I can't wait to get my paws on it. It sounds fabulous. Maybe if I can order it soon enough it can be my plane ride reading material.

    Great review.

  2. Great review, Andi... I'm definitely going to pick this one up while I'm home for Christmas! Thanks for the suggestion :)

  3. Great review! It was a terrific book. I'll have to give the Secret History another try--I couldn't get into it.

    I finished Eclipse last night--I'm so sad that I have to wait for the next book. I hope she picks Jacob!

  4. Yet another for the TBR list. Sounds great!

  5. Okay, that does it - I HAVE to read this book. Not until February, mind you, but read it I will.What a great review.

  6. Ooh! This is on my TBR pile and a challenge list, so I'm all excited to hear you loved it.

    Pessl IS gorgeous, I agree, but what a very odd pose/head angle. I wonder what made her choose that specific shot.

  7. liked it? ;)

    She is very, very attractive, I'll give her that, and it sounds like she has a brain to match! Very cool!

    And how fun that you did what you needed to do to stay up and get through it. I love knowing enthusiastic readers!

  8. I'm with Nikki - I've been waiting to get my mitts on a copy. It's crawling up my wish list at PBS - good thing I'm a patient person. Now, you've got me bouncing on my toes, wishing even harder for a copy. Maybe I'll burn a few calories.

  9. Yay! I am so glad that you liked it. I would say the best book I read all year as well. I miss Blue just hearing you tak about her!

  10. By the way, have you been to the website for this book? It is really fun.

  11. I liked this book when I first read it, but looking back, I think it's probably the most overrated book I read this year. It has some interesting moments, but nothing really stayed with me. I wrote a rave review about it, but now I realize it was a mistake--if I had to do it over, I wouldn't recommend it.

    But Pessl ... yeah. She's hot.

  12. The book has certainly made it a big hit back home. I've seen people reading it on numerous occasions. But as usual I've got up on guard against bestsellers.

    I can relate reading until my eyes are thin-slitted like the cats'. I finish reading the Anthony Trollope book on the bus to Penang (6 hours ride) *without* coffee. At least the seat was very comfortable, which is the most important to me other than the book's content. :)

  13. Nik, Good luck gettin' your paws on it! I think it'd be a great plane book.

    Becky, enjoy!

    Purl, The Secret History takes a certain type of mood, I think. It's very atmospheric, and I couldn't get into it the first time I tried either. Glad you enjoyed Eclipse!

    Ha! Enjoy, Melissa!

    I hope you like it as much as I did, Courtney!

    Dewey, it is an odd head angle. I suspect her publishers made her do it. Probably made her chin look thinner or something. Although, I seriously doubt she has as many chins as I do.

    Carl, enthusiasm is my middle name!

    LOL, Bookfool! Enjoy!

    Katie, I miss her too! I loved her "voice." I talked my thesis director into downloading the audio, and I can't wait to hear how the narrator is.

    Carl, I have! And I love it!

    BookS. Ooh, sorry to hear it fizzled for you over time. I've read a number of books like that, and I hope this one won't be one of those.

    LOL, Matt. That comfy seat is integral to the reading experience. And without coffee!! That's admirable.


Thanks for taking the time to comment! Blogger has been a beast lately, so I hope you do not have any troubles leaving your thoughts.

Images by Freepik