16 December 2006

Unexpected Rookie Treat

When someone recommends books that I enjoy, I pay particular attention. So it is with Dan Conrad's recommendations. (See my reactions to Karin Fossum's books below.)

Dan mentioned he'd just read Special Topics in Calamity Physics. My response was, "That's a pretty off-putting title for a novel." He wrote back with some details about Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

"One further word on what I wholly agree is an off-putting title of Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

"The whole book SHOULD be off-putting. I mean who needs to read a long book by (judging from her picture) a pretty (in a snobby Bryn Mawr sort of way) young woman who looks like a young (and smart and smart-ass) Jackie Collins and who writes a novel that, for about 1/2 of it, reads like intellectually show-offy adolescent chick-lit about overprivileged preppies. Ugh.

"So, you can imagine my surprise that I became captivated by it, hated to have it end, began to see what that early stuff was actually about, and have thought about it for days afterward. Go figure.

"I believe it's the most engaging book I read this year AND YET I am not at all sure if, and to whom, I would recommend it. I can easily imagine someone just hating the thing. If it intrigues you, I have attached the NYT Janet Maslin review that got me to buy the book in the first place."

Janet Maslin, the New York Times reviewer said this book is a "most flashily erudite first novel" full of "pirouettes and cartwheels... tireless annotations and digressions..." Maslin added, "A fledgling author who invokes Shakespeare, Flaubert and Allen Ginsberg for a tale of boarding-school intrigue had better live up to her grandiose aspirations. Otherwise she risks sounding pitiably overeager to impress."

Like, Dan, Ms Maslin warned readers that "Ms. Pessl shoehorns so many... asides into Special Topics in Calamity Physics that her narrative unfolds in a state of perpetual interruption... A 500-page headache is as possible as a bracing joyride." She also reassures us that "Special Topics in Calamity Physics soon jettisons its booster rockets and begins to soar... This book's gradual upward trajectory leads it toward mounting suspense, a hall-of-mirrors finale and a coda that is supremely inspired."

I'm cautiously curious about the book. I may go looking for it after the holidays. But, I don't know. The company the book keeps makes me deeply suspicious.

1 comment:

Ken Wedding said...

Dan, who wrote the review above, decided on a PS after reading some of the reviews I found links to. However, the requirement that one sign up for a Blogger ID seemed not worth the little note.

So, he sent it to me and here it is:

"The note I was going to add regarding Calamity Physics is not that important and may smack of overselling the book which I don't mean to do for it's not that great, but in reaction to some comments on one of the links you provided (from people who didn't like the book) I was going to write:

"The constant listing of references is not, I believe, pretension, but a recent college graduate taking her revenge by spoofing all those awful things we had to read and write in graduate school where you couldn't say "the sky is blue" without citing an authority--the more arcane the better.

"Secondly, this is really three books in one. The first does read like a "Prep School Confidential" (with references); the second is a murder mystery with what I thought were ingenious twists and turns; the third is that the end of the novel puts the events of the first half in such a different light as to make it a different story than the one we first read--not in the sense of hidden clues so much as how in our lives we sometimes come to understand events or comments quite differently in the light of later information and experiences."