Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dad always said a person must have a magnificent reason for writing out his or her Life Story and expecting anyone to read it

My friend sent me Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl in a package containing Vonnegut's Galapagos and Mieville's The City and The City.  Galapagos was my copy he was returning and The City and The City was a mutual friend's copy that I'd wanted to read, and Special Topics was a book my friend thought I should check out.  I don't know that I would have picked it up on my own (it's hardback which is almost enough for me to have passed it by) but I'm always glad to take a recommendation from a trusted friend.

I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book so far and I'm hoping the story picks up soon.  According to the back cover and the intro, the story is a murder mystery.  The main character, Blue, finds Hannah dead and must make sense of what's happened.  After setting this up in a few sentences, the story jumps back in time to give you an introduction to Blue and her father, a travelling university professor and kind of a pretentious dick.  OK, that's my take on him and I constantly want someone to spill something staining on his Tweed jacket.  It hasn't happened yet, but I have my hopes.  I'm ambivalent towards Blue at the moment.  She's extremely intelligent due to the constant  assignments and exercises her father has been giving her for as far back as she details.  For reasons unknown to her (and to the reader because the book is told from Blue's point of view) the high society Blueblood group reluctantly brings her into the gilded circle, lead by the soon-to-be-dead Film teacher Hannah.

The chapters are split into a syllabus of Required Reading titles that subtly relate to the chapters.  You need to be familiar with the required readings in order to see all of the parallels and, to me, the most obvious is the Pygmalion chapter, where Blue gets a mini-makeover courtesy of Jade and her mother's black American Express.  I'm glad this isn't more overt or I think this style would seem gimmicky and would take away from the story.*  One thing that is getting slightly annoying is the constant citations for ever reference she makes.  I suppose in a way it shows you how far into academia Blue is but I've found myself skipping over these.  Point made, move on.

I'm undecided on the book so far.  I'm enjoying it but I haven't been pulled into the story yet.  It's been easy for me to put the book down.  I'm hoping the story moves forward soon.  The writing is interesting, the characters are intriguing but now I need the story to continue on.  I do have high hopes though.  My friend wouldn't lead me astray.

*The other chapters I've gone through so far, in case you're curious are: Othello, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Wurthering Heights, The House of the Seven Gables, The Woman in White, Brave New World, Les Liaisons Dangereuses, and Madame Bovary.

Title quote from page 5.  It's the opening line.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  Marisha Pessl.  Viking Press, New York.  2006.