Wednesday, September 5, 2018
Narrated by Janice Card
Published January 2007 by Gale Group
A coming-of-age novel and a richly plotted suspense tale told through the distinctive voice of its heroine, Blue van Meer. After a childhood moving from one academic outpost to another with her father (a man prone to aphorisms and meteoric affairs), Blue is clever, deadpan, and possessed of a vast lexicon of literary, political, philosophical, and scientific knowledge—and is quite the cineaste to boot. In her final year of high school at the elite (and unusual) St. Gallway School in Stockton, North Carolina, Blue falls in with a charismatic group of friends and their captivating teacher, Hannah Schneider. But when the drowning of one of Hannah's friends and the shocking death of Hannah herself lead to a confluence of mysteries, Blue is left to make sense of it all with only her gimlet-eyed instincts and cultural references to guide—or misguide—her.
Let's just get this out of the way up front - while there's nothing wrong with the narration in the audiobook edition of this book, I really wish I had just read the book. There's a lot going on here and I completely lost track of what I was listening to. In the Prologue, Blue tells us about Hannah's death but when it actually happens in the book, I had completely forgotten about it. Of course, some of that is because this is the book I was listening to on CD when I suddenly no longer had a CD player and ended up waiting a couple of weeks before I was able to check out the audiobook from the library. As it turns out, I was also completing unaware that there are also visual aids in the book. Which I discovered when I realized that I actually have this book on my Nook. I could have just picked it up as soon as I didn't have a CD player. Ugh.
You really do need to pay attention. We do know, after all, right up front that someone is going to die. It should probably occur to readers that, perhaps, the book may drop some clues along the way that will come into play later. I didn't catch any of it and I'm certain that actually seeing the words would have had a greater impact on my memory (I say that, but I'm also the person who often has to flip back tens of pages to find out who a particular character is). Or, maybe not; this is, after all, a 500+ page, 21+ hour book and there are so many digressions. For a debut novel, in particular, it really is quite a unique novel and it's easy to see how Pessl built from this book to Night Film.a
I couldn't help but wonder if Pessl had been influenced by Donna Tartt's The Secret History the further I got into the book, just at a high school level. A group of not very likable young people at a privileged school who somewhat have a new person thrust into their group, a charismatic teacher, and a death while they are out in the woods - all echoes of Tartt's book. What saves Special Topics in Calamity Physics from veering too close into knock off territory is Blue's relationship with her father. Even though you feel sorry for the pair who have lost their beloved wife and mother, and for Blue who has to constantly try to fit into new schools as Gareth drags them all over the country, you can't help but be a little jealous of the relationship the two have.
I felt, for 16 or so hours of listening, as though we were sort of plodding along, working toward something. Then Hannah died and things picked up quickly and I was forced to slow down the speed because there was so much going on that I HAD to pay attention. When we got to the end, I wished I had done that sooner. Because, I'll be damned if there's not a pop quiz at the end of the book! Might have known that was coming when the chapters are all set up as a sort of literature syllabus. I might just have to get out my Nook a browse back over this one sometime to see if I can get a better score!