Q. - Marish Pessl is a very smart woman and has read a lot of books. She also has a lot of very smart observations and knows how to write a nice passage. To do this, she uses literary words and references smart people. Yes, Marisha Pessl is a very good writer. T/F?
A. True-ish? First of all, miss Pessl reveals her own genious with the vivid perversity of a stripper called Destiny removing all her undergarments at a strip club in Los Angeles. (You see that, Marisha? I can produce a simile as well!). I can understand that this works to the frustration of many, especially those who have once aspired to become a writer as well. It's true she could have dosed her literary escapades with a bit more caution, but nevertheless, her writing is unique and engaging. Even though there are times I thought miss Pessl should just shove certain metaphors back into her bra, she succeeds in what very few writers can do with their debut - finding and presenting a new literary voice.
How I wish I could say the same thing about the story! The more I tried to ignore it, the more it became clear that miss Pessl has obviously also read that other great debut novel, [b:The Secret History|29044|The Secret History|Donna Tartt|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327733397s/29044.jpg|221359] by [a:Donna Tartt|8719|Donna Tartt|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1266896997p2/8719.jpg]. The premise of a fascinating teacher that has a band of scholars following their every move reappears here. But most of all - the characters seem to do so as well. They have the same profile, play a similar role. This means miss Pessl's debut novel immediately finds itself on thin ice. I was one of those people who read 'The Secret History' and absolutely loved it. It's a timeless novel, a triumph of romanticisms and psychological insight. It's friendship. It's beautiful.
'Special Topics in Calamity Physics' is, in this equation, pretty much the same story, but it feels so much more lonely and bitter. Blue van Meer is a strange protagonist. I felt as if she erupted when she should have stayed quiet and hushed when anger was more appropriate. Her over-analytic person is supposed to be caused by her dad. I get it, really, I do. But it does provide Pessl with some very handy excuses to skip over weaker parts of the plot. It helps her comment on her own story, through one-liners that supposedly come from Blue's dad Gareth. It all felt a little flawed to me. As did the final chapter. I don't like authors meddling with the readers opinion. I like open endings as much as the next bloke, but really, I don't need an evaluation of the story I just read. That's all up to the reader, really. After all, if nobody has ever read it, how can one even know it's a book. The reader has the power. The chapter names were a bit forced as well. I suppose they represent the reading list that Blue's Dad gives her. I suppose it's symbolic, since these represent a learning curve for Blue, as does the story she is connecting to these books. Still, this wasn't very clear, and felt a bit gimmicky.
This sounds like a lot of complaints, but to tell the truth, I was really fascinated by this book. It took on a lot of responsibility, it had a vision, which I find to be lacking in many recent novels. The writing was brilliant; sometimes even a little bit too much so, since it eclipsed the story at numerous occasions. The resemblance to 'The Secret History' is a double-edged sword, really. In part, I'm really glad there's now another novel like it. At the same time, Donna Tartt did it better in my opinion. That's all I'll say about it. Obviously, the story isn't exactly the same, and nobody can really 'own' a certain type of mystery story.
'Special Topics in Calamity Physics' feels like drinking soda in literary world dominated simply by water. It's fresh, it's exciting, but takes some getting used to. However, I do admit; I was hooked, and Marisha Pessl has a great future ahead of her.