|ISBN-10: 0143112120 ISBN-13: 9780143112129 Published: Penguin Books, 04/24/2007 Pages: 528 Language: English|
Night Film may not yet be available for the general public, but Pessl's excellent first novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics is on sale right now. Special Topics was published in 2006, when Pessl was an envy-inducing 28 years old. The book has all of the ambition (Special Topics is one of the most referential and thoroughly annotated works of fiction I have ever encountered) and none of the typical blunders of a first novel. Pessl's protagonist is the improbably named Blue van Meer, the daughter of a traveling professor who eagerly stuffs her head with "literary, philosophical, scientific, and cinematic knowledge" of extraordinary breadth. The encyclopedia-brained Blue excels in school but has a more complicated relationship with her peers.
When an eccentric group of students at her new school-- brought together by a mysterious, magnetic teacher-- more or less recruit her, she becomes spectator to a number of spoilerific events, including a (possible) murder. The plot unravels into dizzying complexity from there, with each fresh wrinkle and twist pulling the reader along helplessly. Expect to spend at least one late night bulldozing through the final hundred pages or so. Special Topics is not just a noir, a coming-of-a-age story, or, really, anything remotely classifiable. That-- along with the obvious bonuses of great writing and characterizations-- makes Pessl's book a fascinating and intoxicating genre mélange.
To borrow a page from Pessl's learned and referential handbook, I encourage you to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics and to come to the Night Film reading for the simple reason that "it is only a novel... or, in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language" (Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey). See you there!