Marisha Pessl’s first novel created quite a stir when it came out last summer, and was named one of The New York Times Book Review’s ten best books of 2006. It’s easy to see why.
Blue van Meer hasn’t had a normal childhood since her mother died in a car wreck when Blue was five. Since then she’s moved from town to town, absorbing abstruse information from her pompous father, a college instructor in backwater schools, who seldom stays more than a semester in any one place. She adores her dad, who’s now promised to stay put for her entire senior year of high school.
She’s astonished to be adopted by a sort of tightly knit social elite, a group revolving around Hannah Schneider, a charismatic film instructor. From the book’s beginning, we know that Schneider will be dead by the end of the school year, an apparent suicide. The fascination Blue and her friends have for Schneider leads them to spy on her, discovering seedy affairs (possibly including Blue’s father), and finally to doubt that her death was self-inflicted. Blue’s attempts to prove this pulls the rug out from under several things we thought we knew. I like having the rug pulled out from under me.
The story is more than serviceable, but it’s Blue’s voice, brainy and esoteric, and the novel’s structure that make this special. The book is arranged as a syllabus, every chapter being named for a literary classic. Oh yes, there’s a test at the end.