The End of Mr. Y, Scarlett Thomas

Recommended by: Bride of the Book God

I’ve been reading The End of Mr. Y for untold ages (perhaps an entire fortnight), with numerous little vacations in which I read other books for purposes of duty and leisure. This is because The End of Mr. Y didn’t really grab me – I wasn’t so much uninterested in this book as I was much more interested in others.

It’s about a Ph.D. student called Ariel Manto who is studying (among other things) Victorian author Thomas Lumas, whose book The End of Mr. Y is supposed to be cursed, so that anyone who reads it dies. Happily for the world, only one known copy exists, and it is in a German bank vault. However, Ariel, that lucky duck, happens upon a copy at a used bookstore and reads it joyously. She discovers that it contains instructions on how to get to a place called the Troposphere, which can put you inside other people’s minds and all kinds of crazy shit. Hijinks ensue.

As a thought experiment it was extremely interesting; as a story it was also quite interesting, and I enjoyed it in both capacities. Though I will say that in its capacity as a story (leaving out its thought-experiment-ness), the longish expository segment with Ariel and Lura and Burlem was very – well. Longish. And very very expository. Distressingly so. I used up a lot of my brain paying attention to it and forgot all about the story with Project Starlight and Adam and that lot, so it was jarring for me when they showed back up.

I also get rapidly impatient with books in which the narrator struggles for words to describe the bizarre and foreign universe(s) in which s/he finds him- or herself, or the bizarre and foreign sensations s/he experiences as a result of the bizarre and foreign circumstances s/he is undergoing. Without wanting to be nasty to people who do this, and I include Robin McKinley and Diana Wynne Jones, both of whom I love, in this category…get a damn grip. If I wanted to hear people groping helplessly for self-expression I’d just attend my classes. Especially Symbolic Logic. Yes, okay, I can see the point – if it were a normal experience there would be no problem for the narrator; his/her difficulty in finding viable words indicates that the phenomenon s/he is attempting to describe is outside of ordinary human experience. Don’t care. Take two seconds to explain that the words you’re using are only approximations, and then forge ahead bravely. Embrace the inadequacy of the English language.

(I ♥ the English language and its copious profusion of available words. So this may be a knee-jerk defensive reaction – Oh yeah? Can’t describe it? You got something to say about my language? What’s wrong with English, huh? Huh? – rather than a valid stylistic criticism.)

One brief remark:

There is something a bit weird about how Ms. Thomas addressed the issue of sex in this book. Ariel repeatedly refers to her “transgressive” sex habits, and calls herself a slut and makes nasty comments straight along about her sexual life, which involves things like being tied up with ropes and sleeping with married guys, and she just several times describes all this as being nasty and dirty and bad. And then when she and Adam have finally had nice, good, missionary position sex (which is glorious for them both) and declared their love for each other, there is this passage, which I actually find rather disturbing:

“Why don’t you hate me?” I say, even though I already know the answer.

“What do you mean?”…

“Well, you know everything [about me] now. All the sex. All the…everything.”

Where all the [bad] sex is evidently a specific thing for which Ariel requires forgiveness from Adam (former priest and virgin until a few minutes ago). I’m probably overthinking this, and the self-loathing is just a facet of Ariel’s character, but honestly the whole question of sex in this book is set up in a way that seems quite creepy and antifeminist.

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak

Seven.

You roll and watch it coming, realizing completely that this is no regular die.  You claim it to be bad luck, but you’ve known all along that it had to come.  You brought it into the room.  The table could smell it on your breath.  The Jew was sticking out of your pocket from the outset.  He’s smeared to your lapel, and the moment you roll, you know it’s a seven – the one thing that somehow finds a way to hurt you.  It lands.  It stares you in each eye, miraculous and loathsome, and you turn away with it feeding on your chest.

Just bad luck.

That’s what you say.

Of no consequence.

That’s what you make yourself believe – because deep down, you know that this small piece of changing fortune is a signal of things to come.  You hide a Jew.  You pay.  Somehow or other, you must.

I saw The Book Thief first when I was in England, staying in London with my family over New Year’s, and I couldn’t decide whether I wanted it or not (I wish I’d bought it then because it would have been more expensive BUT it had a nice cover and was hardback), so I picked it up and glanced at it, and something the sales person said led me to believe it was in translation.  So since I didn’t really have any spare money for a book that might not be good and was in translation anyway, and since I definitely didn’t have any spare space in my luggage, I didn’t get it.

What with one thing and another I checked it out of the library this past summer and read it almost all in one go, lying on my couch at home.  It made me cry.  So I didn’t read it again, and I didn’t buy it, and by the time I noticed that I was pining for it, it was too late and the Official Christmas Buying Embargo was on, and when I didn’t get it for Christmas (I got many other things though!), I went round to Bongs & Noodles and bought it with my Christmas gift card money.

(Yay!)

Seriously, honestly, this book is as good as you’ve heard.  It is one of the best books I have ever read.  Markus Zusak, yay for you.  It’s about a little German girl who steals books and has a foster family and hides a Jew in her basement.  And yes, okay, the book is narrated by Death, and I know that might not be a draw for some people, but this book is just gorgeously written, and it’s extremely moving, and I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t true.

But sad.  So if you have serious objections to bits of story that involve dead children and mums crying about it, and if those objections are serious enough that you actually cannot see past them, then okay, this book might not be for you.  For everyone else in the whole world though.  Yup.  Damn good book.  It made me cry, and although I tear up extremely easily, it is a much better trick to make actual tears actually fall out of my eyes, which is what The Book Thief has done both times I’ve read it.

Although I ordinarily cannot deal with Holocaust books at all, which I know this officially isn’t one of, but it kind of is.  And still I liked The Book Thief a lot.

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly

When David slept he dreamed more often of the creature he had named the Crooked Man, who walked through forests very like the one beyond David’s window.  The Crooked Man would advance to the edge of the tree line, staring out at an expanse of green lawn to where a house just like Rose’s stood.  He would speak to David in his dreams.

I picked this up almost completely at random. My dad said “What else can we get Mom for Christmas?” and I said “Oh, I know. This.”, and grabbed The Book of Lost Things, which I had been eying for a while, so he got it for her, and – um, well, before she had a chance to read it I swiped it and read it myself. So that was randomish. However, A High and Hidden Place also said it was good.

Before I get started with the reviewing, I have to quote this because it slays me.  I don’t usually read Amazon reviews until after I’ve written my own (then the study would be tainted), but for some reason I did in this case, and here is what someone on Amazon says about The Book of Lost Things (s/he (?) didn’t like it):

Repugnant and odious!

Don’t even THINK about allowing a child to read this – or even a teen lost in his own “goth” moment. Connolly has reached far into the earth and pulled up homosexuality, erotic thoughts, murder, gore – any evil thing possible to put a poll of black around the reader and then has the nerve to charge $16.00 for his own perversion. It’s been said that if an irishman was a boomerang he wouldn’t come home, he would just cry and whine and write stories about why he wanted to come home. This is what this melancholy, dark soul has done in this book. My advice to you is “don’t read” and my advice to Connolly is “seek help immediately” — what a distasteful, loathsome tome!

Seek help immediately. And charging $16.00 for his own perversion! The nerve! But it’s okay, because this review was referring to the hardback edition – I read the paperback, and it was free for me because I swiped it from my mother, so I got John Connolly’s Tome O’ Perversion at no cost to myself!

I enjoyed this book, although I think it would have been more cool if there had been more interaction between the fantasy world and the real world – like Pan’s Labyrinth which was very dark but very cool.  As it was I ended up liking the bits in the real world better, and it was good when things overlapped somewhat, like when David could hear the books whispering and when he saw the Crooked Man in his bedroom, and like that.  Once he got to the other place, there was a lot of subverting of fairy tales that sometimes seemed to be happening just for its own sake, like John Connolly’s all, Hey, what if Snow White was a bitch?  What about THAT, eh? but then forgets to take it anywhere, plot-wise.

Not absolutely wildly original (but some nasty corpses, also).  Not perverted.  Not a tome either, either in the “one volume of several” sense or the “scholarly and ponderous” sense.  But an excellent cover.  Really.  Excellent.

Atonement, by Ian McEwan

Cecilia went to the kitchen to fill the vase, and carried it up to her bedroom to retrieve the flowers from the handbasin. When she dropped them in they once again refused to fall into the artful disorder she preferred, and instead swung round in the water into a willful neatness, with the taller stalks evenly distributed around the rim. She lifted the flowers and let them drop again, and they fell into another orderly pattern. Still, it hardly mattered. It was difficult to imagine this Mr. Marshall complaining that the flowers by his bedside were too symmetrically displayed. She took the arrangement up to the second floor, along the creaking corridors to what was known as Auntie Venus’s room, and set the vase on a chest of drawers by a four-poster bed, thus completing the little commission her mother had set her that morning, eight hours before.

Actually, a good while ago I did pick this book up at random, when I was baby-sitting once and the kids had gone to bed, and I hadn’t brought any of my own books, and I was not very impressed by it then. But that was a long time ago, and I was much younger than I am now. So in spite of the dramatic failure of Saturday, I decided to read Atonement. This is because I thought the movie was quite good, and also because I was sure that Atonement had a good story; and I thought that this good-story aspect would immediately put it head and shoulders above Saturday, which about a quarter of the way through had still not got started with any story.

Let me preface this by saying that I am the kind of person who thinks a lot. It has been suggested to me on at least two occasions (maybe a few more than two) that I overthink things. This is brutal on standardized tests, especially the reading comprehension sections which I always do well on but which take me loads of time because I am contemplating how each of the four possible answers might be seen to make sense. I mention this because I don’t want there to be any confusion about my primary complaint with Atonement.

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD, is it even remotely possible for these people to quit THINKING IN THEIR BRAINS a lot of long-ass thoughts about all the BORING SHIT THEY ARE DOING when it is all wholly irrelevant and just GET ON WITH IT? And by “it” of course I mean having sex in libraries and telling nasty lies about people and hallucinating at Dunkirk. (Dunkirk!)

(I turn into fifth-book Harry Potter when confronted with annoyingness of Ian McEwan calibre.)

It’s such a shame because I really do think Atonement has an excellent premise, and the book just absolutely destroys anything that might be remotely interesting about it by going on and on and on and on and on and on and on in a prose style which is – I’m sorry, Ian McEwan! – simply not elegant or original enough to be its own raison d’être. This book is no Lolita or Midnight’s Children; it is not even I Capture the Castle or Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – the writing is neither extremely beautiful nor extremely charming and endearing, and the reader (I refer here to myself) is not content to carry on reading it even when nothing much is happening. WHICH IS ALWAYS.

I mean almost always. But it felt like always. And if I hadn’t known that there were going to be brief but interesting spurts of Things Happening, I would not have had sufficient stamina to finish it. And as it was I skipped long chunks of Nothing Happening. Like this:

Not long after lunch, once she was assured that her sister’s children and Briony had eaten sensibly and would keep their promise to stay away from the pool for at least two hours, Emily Tallis had withdrawn from the white glare of the afternoon’s heat to a cool and darkened bedroom. She was not in pain, not yet, but she was retreating before its threat. There were illuminated points in her vision, little pinpricks, as though the worn fabric of the visible world was being held up against a far brighter light. She felt in the top right corner of her brain a heaviness, the inert body weight of some curled and sleeping animal; but when she touched her head and pressed, the presence disappeared from the coordinates of actual space. Now it was in the top right corner of her mind, and in her imagination she could stand on tiptoe and raise her right hand to it. It was important, however, not to provoke it; once this lazy creature moved from the peripheries to the center, then the knifing pains would obliterate all thought, and there would be no chance of dining with Leon and the family tonight.

OH MY GOD.

That wasn’t even the whole bit. That was just all I could bear to copy. Actually that passage goes on for a while. She spends a long damn time thinking about her headache, and then she thinks about her children and tells us all the things we have already observed about Briony and Cecilia because we have seen them interacting with people, and it goes on and on and on and on and on. And the only interesting thing that happens is she overhears Lola being molested by the chocolate magnate but she thinks they’re just playing a game. And in case you’re wondering, her headaches never bear any relation to the plot, and neither does she much. And obviously when Ian McEwan was a lad in writing school somebody told him that the “show, don’t tell” stricture was nonsense and you must just do exactly as you please; and Ian McEwan took it dramatically to heart.

I would also say that the book seems basically insincere, so it was impossible for me to engage with it, and furthermore he used nauseous wrong, which I absolutely hate. He did it twice. The word is nauseated. Not nauseous. Nauseated. If something is nauseous, it makes you feel nauseated; you are not nauseous unless, I suppose, you have been brutally tortured and had your limbs ripped off.

Anyway, if the above samples of Atonement do not annoy you (they annoy me SO MUCH), then you might enjoy it, but otherwise you will be screaming GET TO THE POINT as Ian McEwan goes on for two pages about the phenomenon of making each other laugh by glancing over at each other when something is funny (everyone knows about that, Ian McEwan! I don’t need to read the entire history of Leon and Cecilia’s relationship to make me believe that a brother and a sister might have a similar sense of humor!); and then when your flatmates start having an argument in the kitchen you will not be at your peacemaking best and might say something imprudent that will completely irritate one of them.

(I didn’t, though. I was the essence of grace and calm.)

The Semi-Attached Couple, Emily Eden

“Don’t you think Reginald Stuart very much out of spirits?” said Lady Portmore, when she was lingering over the breakfast-table, after the other ladies had withdrawn and Lord Teviot and Stuart had gone out shooting.”Yes, I think he is,” said Ernest, “rather out of spirits, and very much out of cash, I suspect; the old story of cause and effect.”

Recommended by: Box of Books

Now, if I recall correctly (as of course I unfailingly do), the recommending book blog said that Emily Eden was a lot like Jane Austen but bitchier, and I am not particularly finding that. I think her characterization is a little less delicate, and there are some passages that are quite satisfyingly bitchy – like when Mrs. Douglas snubs Lady Portmore, which I wished would happen on every single page because it was hilarious – but not particularly more satisfyingly bitchy than when, for instance, Elizabeth Bennet sorts out Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or (I’m sorry to be so mean but I can’t help it and I felt bad for laughing but oh my God Miss Bates was so damn annoying) Emma is rude to Miss Bates. So I don’t find the more bitchy thing to be true, and I think Emily Eden is not as fantastic as Jane Austen.

However, if I were doing book reviews based on who is better than Jane Austen, I would not have very many positive ones. And I quite enjoyed The Semi-Attached Couple, and I will shortly read The Semi-Detached House, which I have also obtained from the library. I read this book in fits and starts, on account of having about three dozen books in my room and wanting to read them all but actually having time for none, because of classes and work (dem those classes! dem them!), and so it seems to have taken untold ages to read but anyway I have just read it.

It’s about a girl called Helen who is very devoted to her family and has always been the pet, and anyway she becomes engaged to Lord Teviot, realizes she doesn’t love him that much, marries him anyway, and proceeds to have all kinds of domestic unfelicity and Lord Teviot gets cross about everything – I was getting bored with them at this point – and then, happily, they have a big bunch of people come to their house, and things started picking up beautifully. Lady Portmore is, actually, extremely funny, and Ernest Beaufort makes me smile against my will.

The only thing was, and dude, it totally took me by surprise, the book was carrying on, la la la, very Jane Austeny, dee dee dee, everyone’s in love, there’s problems, bitches and cads, hum de dum, lovely innocent girls and their sweet innocent amours, all very well, doop de doop de doop de doo –

And then BAM. There’s an ELECTION. That the characters are INVOLVED IN.   Like they are HARDCORE INVOLVED IN IT.  I was totally not prepared for it. I was left sitting staring at the book like, Hey! You were supposed to be a bitchier Jane Austen! Why are you suddenly a political novel, you slumbitch book?

Which is all part of my averseness to change, especially sudden startling unexpected change of genre in books I am reading, which is one reason I didn’t like Lizst’s Kiss and the reason I was so dismayed by Special Topics in Calamity Physics which I thought was a coming-of-age novel but was actually a mystery.

Happily the election went away pretty promptly, but then it was back to wrapping things up extremely tidily, and I found the ending unsatisfying, and my stars, how boring was Helen when Lord Teviot was sick?  But otherwise I enjoyed it a lot, and I will probably never ever read it again.

The English Governess at the Siamese Court, Anna Leonowens

Okay, the truth comes out.  You won’t believe it, but Anna Leonowens did not, in fact, have a hot but platonic romance with the King of Siam; or if she did, she kept remarkably quiet about it in her book.  Although I’m not ruling out the possibility that all the late-night “translating” she was doing for the king was actually sexual favors.  Because, you know, she acts like a proper Victorian lady but who knows?

Seriously, though, I feel that this memoir (travelogue) lacked a certain something.  Taking into account the prejudices of her time, she was still kind of a bitch about a lot of stuff, and I think she was rude to tell all the ladies of the harem that she’d rather be boiled in oil a hundred times over than even think for a single second about marrying their vile pagan king.  And believe me, Mrs. Leonowens, we got the point the first time that you were an agent of mercy and tolerance, helping all the pathetic hapless Siamese people to get their way whenever they came to you with weeping petitions.

Okay, I feel really mean now.  I’m sure she was just as helpful as she says and saved many a harem lass from being beaten or imprisoned for a very long time.  She’s probably up in heaven looking downcast and telling her best friend “Why’s that girl being so mean about me?  I was doing the best I could” in a small voice while her friend comforts her and shakes her fist at me.  Or else she’s running to tattle to God, and he’s making a little note for when I die and they play me an IMAX film of all the nasty and uncharitable acts I committed during my life.

Well anyway – no fun subplot of Tuptim and her lover being brutally beaten and murdered, so that’s a bummer; but actually a quite touching speech from the King upon Mrs. Leonowen’s departure.  She does not, incidentally, change her mind at the last moment and decide to stay, but goes heartlessly back to England to look after her health and her son.  Whatever.

Saturday, by Ian McEwan

Okay, I didn’t pick this up wholly at random, but it was the only Ian McEwan book at the library although I actually wanted Atonement to see how different it was to the movie, so that’s why I decided to read this one.  Anyway I didn’t finish.  I have a massive big stack of library books to read, and this one wasn’t impressing me at all, and I was way way in and still waiting for something to happen, and I hate those books where a dude wakes up in the morning and starts to think all about his entire life in massive detail, so I was like, Well, shit, life’s too short, I’m going to read something that I find interesting or well-written.

But maybe I was just in the wrong mood for this book.  So perhaps I’ll try it again someday (probably not though).  Definitely I will try another Ian McEwan book sometime – I hate it when someone’s a highly acclaimed writer who has written a number of books and I really, really, really want to love them because that would be exciting and open up new vistas of joy for me but then I hate their books.  That’s why I never read Joyce Carol Oates, because I’m afraid of that very thing happening.

Time Was Soft There, Jeremy Mercer

Two months before I’d had a high-profile job with an enviable salary, a sleek black German sedan on lease, an apartment in a fashionable downtown neighborhood, and a collection of not-so-inexpensive shirts and jackets hanging in the closet. Now, there were a few hundred dollars in my pocket, no job or prospect thereof, some clothes jammed into an old handbag, and a bed in a tattered bookstore to call home. All things considered, I couldn’t have been happier.

Recommended by: Kate’s Book Blog

I really liked the idea of this book. It’s a memoir written by a chap who went to live at Shakespeare & Co., a bookshop and temporary residence for writers and artists in Paris. I like memoirs and I like bookshops (God knows) and I like places that collect interesting people; all of these things I like, but I was bored with Time Was Soft There. I think Jeremy Mercer is just not that great a writer. I have probably been spoiled by Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but when I read a book about all the people in some place, I want them to be interesting and, I don’t know, vivid. Not so much here. I think it’s a shame, because there’s an interesting story to be told here, and Jeremy Mercer just doesn’t do it very well.

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

It was full dark….I knew he could see in the dark; I knew vampires can smell live blood….No, I thought.  That hardly matters.  He isn’t going to forget about me any more than I am going to forget about him, even if I can’t see or hear him – even if I’ve got so used to the vampire smell I’m not noticing it any more.  Which just made it worse.  I thought I would have to see him cross the gray rectangle between him and me – I was pretty sure his chain wasn’t long enough to let him go round – I knew I wouldn’t hear him.  But…I hadn’t seen him drink either.  I bit down on my lips.  I wasn’t going to cry, and I wasn’t going to scream…

And speaking of non-trashy vampire books, I give you Sunshine, by Robin McKinley.  The eponymous Sunshine, baker at a local coffeehouse, gets abducted by vampires for nefarious purposes I won’t go into here, and what with one thing and another, she gets sort of sucked in (ho, ho, ho) to some goings-on in the vampire world, and it’s tricky for her because in fact she would sort of prefer to be a coffeehouse baker.  Rather than Defeating Evil.  And there are some desserts and a vampire of much greater elegance and better mastery of language than Edward of Twilight.

As I say, a non-trashy vampire book, though reading the trashy one and watching Dark Shadows (best show ever, by the way, with Lt. Nathan Forbes (Joe in the present day) as the absolute best character on there, though we like Carolyn quite a lot too) did have a lot to do with the timing of me rereading this one.  I’ve not read it in ages, actually – the first time was on one of our “camping trips”, where we basically make a ton of food and eat it over the weekend while the more adventurous of us go hiking or boating and the lazier of us (this always includes me) sit home and read things.  Sunshine was an excellent find, definitely better in quality than this past year’s major book undertaking, which was Forever Amber (and also Purple Hibiscus and Cordelia Underwood, but those took up much less of my time and emotional involvement).

What I would say about this book is that it leaves you still wondering about a lot of things.  A lot of things.  And some of them are good things to wonder about, like, Why is Constantine such a cool name, and why is the world so constructed that it would be unacceptable for me to name my kid Constantine?, but some of them are things you don’t want to be wondering about at the end of a book, like, What’s the damn difference between Con and Bo anyway (apart from the obvious nice/mean distinction)?

However, I find upon rereading that these are less frantically crucial issues than I thought they were last time I read the book.  Last time I finished it and I was like, Well for Christ’s sake thanks for nothing! and I was particularly cross, may I just say, about not finding out anything interesting about the goddess of pain.   Actually I’m still a little cross about that.  But this latest rereading, which as I say is a good long while on from when I read it last, has made me feel better about the general construction of the book and advancement of the plot.

There is definitely that thing that Robin McKinley is prone to, where she has to describe the way people are feeling and the entire background story to a remark someone’s about to make/just finished making, in unreal amounts of detail.  She sometimes sacrifices the plot for this (see: Dragon Haven (but not really, I read it before I started this website)), but not in the case of Sunshine.  It is occasionally too much but mostly quite interesting because hey! vampires!

So I vote yes to this book.  Indeed I would say her best since Beauty.  Though Deerskin was also quite good.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Marisha Pessl

To quote the bit that charmed me into buying it:

[D]ue to her “troubles”, she’d voluntarily admitted herself to a “Narnia kind of place” where people talked about their feelings and learned to watercolor fruit. Jade hinted excitedly that a “really huge rock star” had been in residence on her floor, the comparatively well-adjusted third floor (“not as suicidal as the fourth or as manic as the second”) and they’d become “close,” but to reveal his name would be to forsake everything she’d learned during her ten-month “growth period” at Heathridge Park. (Jade now, I realized, saw herself as some sort of herbaceous vine or creeper.) One of the parameters of her “graduation,” she explained (she used this world, probably because it was preferable to “release”) was that she tie up Loose Ends.

I was a loose End.

Recommended by: http://estellasrevenge.blogspot.com

I have just this minute finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and I am in the process of deciding what I think. I went to some trouble to obtain it – first buying it at the bookstore and then getting it from the library in order to screen it and decide whether I want to own it – and I intended to have a definitive answer (I’ll be honest, I was expecting a definitive yes) as soon as I finished it.

Frankly, I suspect the only reason I haven’t got a definitive answer is that I gave in to the brainwashing by modern society. All through the book I was thinking, I really want to read the end of this book, and every time I thought it, I said to myself, Now Jenny, this is just irrational. You know about delayed gratification, and it’s going to be so much better if you let yourself be surprised.

This is a mindset that has arisen since the Harry Potter books, namely since the sixth one, when I just glanced at the end to check whether Ginny was going to be okay – for God’s sake, Harry deserves a little happiness! I was thinking hysterically, it being extremely late and myself being the only one awake and in a foreign country – and of course my eye fell on the sentence that said who died. Sheesh. Though in a way it was good because I didn’t have to worry about anyone else dying, but in some ways it was really unfortunate, because every time that character was around I’d be like This is it! This is the end! This is the last time I will ever see you! And I regretted it in that one instance, but the Harry Potter books are an exception to my general read-the-end-as-soon-as-you-logically-can policy, and I shouldn’t have let them throw me off to this extent.

It’s gone too far and I have to stop it. Some people don’t like reading the end; I am the kind of person who likes to read the endings. When you read the end, you enjoy the middle a lot more. Especially in mysteries of the non-Agatha Christie variety. And if I had read the end of Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I believe quite firmly that I would presently be writing a glowing review of the book. As it is I’m not sure that it was quite fair of Ms. Pessl (I wrote “far of Ms. Pessl”, which is certainly also true) to have the tremendous long build-up in the first two-thirds of the book before beginning the dizzying descent into comprehending all of the events you more or less thought you already comprehended anyway. See, if I had read the end and I knew everything, I’d have been like, Whoa, dude, this is prettttttty craaaaazy right here and I am enjoying it A LOT.

So thanks, world, for brainwashing me into reading books your boring-ass pedestrian way of reading books. Don’t take this as criticism. I’m just saying that when you don’t know what shit means until you finish the book, then that incredibly valuable and wondrous thing, The First Time You Read It, gets completely screwed up and ruined because you’ve missed all the layers even though they were there all along. Which is too bad because I’m completely in love with the end of this book. I love insanity. The greater the scope of (book-based) insanity, the better, because I am a sucker for the grandeur of the fictional and insane. I just would have loved this book more if I’d known how completely insane it was in the first place.

I seriously can’t decide if I want to keep my purchased copy. Can’t decide, can’t decide. I love the madness of the end. I really do. I’m just not sure if it makes up for the bits in the middle where I was thinking, Oh my God, get over your frantic desire to make shiny new similes because although sometimes they are very nice and really clever, there are also times when I want to PULL OFF YOUR FACE for the assaults you are perpetrating on English prose.

That reaction was unfairly vehement – only because the stakes were high on account of my having spent some of my Christmas Bongs & Noodles credit on this book and being stressed about whether to Keep It or Return It. It is, however, true that Ms. Pessl occasionally allows herself to become enamored of her prose to the exclusion, or at least partial exclusion, of moving the plot along in an interesting manner. This is, mind you, only before – well, I’d say before the bit where Milton and Blue go over to Hannah’s house. Page 389ish.

I think what would have made this book drastically better for the first two-thirds would have been the fleshing-out of the Bluebloods. We see a lot of them, but they aren’t ultimately all that interesting. Cardboard cut-outs a bit. They’re too focused on Hannah without ever really being very much themselves, which may be because they’re not ultimately relevant, but shit, if they’re going to be in there for such a quantity of pages, at least make them fun to read about.

Nevertheless, I think I will probably read this again sometime. It’s only a question of whether I’ll be reading my own purchased-Christmas-2007 copy or a copy belonging to my local library.

Edit later to add: The more I think about Special Topics, the more I think I really like it.  (Too bad I already returned it.)  I believe that my difficulty was that I was under the impression that it was a coming-of-age novel, and if it had been primarily a coming-of-age novel, it would have had to be more tightly written, and I got frustrated when it didn’t seem to be going anywhere.  Actually it’s a mystery.  See, if I’d known, I don’t think I’d have bogged down in the same way.  So I am going to go with, This is a very excellent book (except the Bluebloods could still have been more interesting).