‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics’ – Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics is an unforgettable debut novel that combines the storytelling gifts of Donna Tartt and the suspense of Alfred Hitchcock: a darkly hilarious coming-of-age tale and a richly plotted suspense story, told with dazzling intelligence and wit.

There’s something about precociously intelligent narrators caught up in bizarre events centred around schools and a small clique with a charismatic leader that seems to cause division amongst readers. Like Tartt’s Secret History, I felt similar feelings as I read this.
Our narrator, Blue, is a rather average looking girl who has a fierce intelligence, yet who watches from the sidelines. Used to moving around when her father gets another teaching job, Blue has had a rather eclectic education. Unfortunately, her intelligence is something she tries to force on us – and it doesn’t always work.
The book focuses on Blue’s arrival at a new school where, under the guidance of the Film Studies teacher Hannah Schneider, she is taken into the fold of a special group. They clearly don’t like her, the teacher veers between inspiring and unhinged…and it’s very obvious that something odd is going on.
Drifting through her senior year and the various events taking place, Blue grows up. She starts to separate from the relationship with her father – and when the events start to actually happen (and it took a while) she is disturbed by the truths she learns.
I couldn’t say this was a book I hated, as there were aspects to it I liked, but it felt messy and in need of tightening up a little.