Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Mojo Mom book club: Special Topics in Calamity Physics

Most book clubs are a balance between discussing the assigned book and socializing. What do you do if you read a book you really need to discuss with friends, but you aren't in a book club? If you are me, you turn to your online friends.

Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics has worked its way into my brain like no other novel I've read in a long time. I had my issues with the book, as I wrote about in my thorough review Writing the review wasn't enough to get the book out of my mind. If you sift through the verbiage, at the heart of the novel is a mystery that remains unsolved--who killed Hannah Schneider?

If I were Stephen Colbert, this is where I would turn to a new camera, take off my glasses, stare intently and say "Unsolved...or is it?" The beauty of STCP is that the core of the mystery is unarticulated by Blue, the narrator, but solvable by the reader. Or several readers putting their heads together. Yesterday I read an article about Marisha Pessl in The New York Times [Times Select] in which she said that she was inspired by the unreliable narrator in Robert Browning's poem "My Last Duchess."

I had never read the poem, so I looked it up and reading it gave me more food for thought. It's as though I can finally appreciate all the literary ideas that my AP English teacher, Mr. Frietag, tried to get us interested in 20 years ago. In our senior year of high school we read Daisy Miller by Henry James, and Mr. Frietag tried to get us to understand the symbolism and concrete detail that led to the conclusion that Daisy was innocent, though uncultured. Back then I could not grasp the concept of reading a book in any way other than a literal interpretation (too many formulaic, cut-and-dried Nancy Drew books in my background, I am afraid). But now I am thrilled to find a book that challenges the reader to put together the pieces that the book's narrator can't asseble for herself.

If you are going to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics I encourage you to go in knowing as little about it as possible. To facilitate a spoiler-iffic book club discussion for those who have read it, I will post my own hypothesis in the comments section. I have not sought out any other reader dicussion forums or input prior to writing this, though I may link to other discussions after I've put down my own initial ideas.

If we get a good discussion going, perhaps I can entice Marisha Pessl to do an interview for The Mojo Mom Podcast.

So go read the book and please post your reactions and ideas in the comments section. (I know it's hardcover but aren't you worth it?) Let's use this discussion to focus on figuring out what really happened, rather than our reviews. Maybe together we can figure out what really happened between Blue, Hannah, and Gareth.


Blogger MojoMom said...

Spoilers encouraged from here on out in the commnents section

So what was really going in in Special Topics in Calamity Physics? First let me say that I've only read the book once, and I read the last 200 pages very rapidly. So I know I've missed a lot of details and I hope to go back and reread the second half of the book.

But here's my basic hypothesis:

The only stated plot point I am taking for a given was that Hannah Schneider was really dead. If that's not true then just call me confused.

Gareth killed Hannah. Why? They were both in the Nightwatchmen and Hannah's job was to recruit the next generation of members, namely the BlueBloods. These disaffected affluent kids, distanced from their families, were perfect targets. They were at St. Gallaway for that reason, including Blue.

This idea of Hannah recruiting the students is not stated directly in the text, but I believe it has to be true. Otherwise, what is the purpose of the BlueBloods? Why do we need to get to know them so well and spend so much time with them? Why does Hannah spend so much time with them? If she's a secret revolutionary, surely she'd have more important things to do than develop unnaturally close relationships with students.

But Hannah got too close to Blue and was not sticking to the script. The camping trip was probably going to be the Nighwatchmen induction, but Hannah went off on her own with Blue. Hannah became too much of a liability, out of Gareth's control, and Gareth ordered her killed. Andreo Verduga may have done the acutal deed.

Was Hannah Blue's mother?

I couldn't quite tease out the relatioship between Hannah and Natasha, Blues' mother. Were they two different people, rivals for Gareth's attention? Were they the same people? Maybe Natasha wasn't really dead, but disappeared and came back as Hannah. Hannah/Natasha sure seem like black/white dopplegangers out of a Hitchcock film or David Lynch thriller. (Think blonde Madeleine and brunette Judy in Hitchcock's Vertigo.) Natasha collected moths and Hannah/Catherine Baker was known as the Death's Head Hawkmoth.

I am sure that Natasha's disappearance was not an accident. I am guessing that she was in on the Nightwatchmen, either as an member or secret agent. I think she was a secret agent who was possibly going to kill Gareth.

Two more things for now:

Was Eva Brewster in on the conspiracy, and was she trying to save either Blue or Gareth? I think that Nathasha's moth collection was one of the many elements of a chain that could be activated to poison Gareth. When Eva smashed the moth case, that chain was broken. Despite Blue's disdain for Eva, I found her genuinely maternal.

Was Gareth the father of all the BlueBloods?

I only ask because his daughter is named Blue...coincidence? Maybe Gareth was father to all of them but Blue was the only child he had with Hannah.

Question for next time: Did Gareth truly love Blue or was he just an amoral control freak? Where does this line get drawn? The many references to Nabokov and Lolita worry me on Blue's behalf.

It feels good to get all that off my chest, but I truly hope we can get a conversation going on here with your thoughts as well.

I'll respond to comments as appropriate and post additional thoughts as they arise.

4:15 PM  
Blogger PunditMom said...

Whoa! I'm scared! I'm not sure I'm up to this book, but if you say it's great, I'll takle a look!

10:15 PM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

"Special Topics" can be frusrating and infuriating in some ways, but ultimately the story stuck with me, I cared about the characters, and I became intrigued by the mystery. You may love it or hate it, but it is a unique book and there is a ton to discuss.

Giving myself permission to skim through Blue's long descriptions helped advance the plot!

9:47 AM  
Anonymous M said...

OK, so I'm in a similar situation. I just sped through the last 200 pages, and now I'm left alone with my thoughts, and my inbox at work is threatening to spill over.

yes, I too think that Gareth killed Hannah. Or at the very least, it was Gareth in the bushes near the campsite. Although, now I can't remember, did he wear glasses?

No, I don't think that he was the father of all the bluebloods. There's not evidence for it, so I don't want to complicate the story any further. It also seems a little far-fetched - after all, he would've had to impregnate 6 different women in the same year, when he was supposedly married to Natasha AND in the throes of a steamy affair with Hannah/Catherine.

As for Hannah = Blue's real mother. I suppose it's possible. But again, I'm leaning towards Natasha as Blue's mother. Something in her treatment of Blue suggests that she has no maternal instinct towards her. She wants to shock Blue, she wants to confide in her and influence her, more as a powerful friend or an older sister even, rather than as a mother.

For the most part, I thought Blue's theories made sense. Kind of. if her father hadn't disappeared so suddenly and absolutely, I might've been tempted to pass off Blue's conspiracy theory as nothing more than paranoia and an overactive imagination. But, Gareth disappears, the morning after Blue expounds her theory. Even his reaction when she mentions Hannah Schneider as a possible agent of the Nightwatchment, is suspicious. A man who opines about absolutely everthing, manages to respond with "but they're a fairytale". That's it? He regains his composure, but his initial reaction remains. odd.

I also can't see the bluebloods as worthy potential recruitments of the Nightwatchmen. They aren't terribly sophisticated, and with the exception of Jade, they don't even seem terribly "messed up". I think Hannah was terribly alone, and in need of companionship, and in the end the bluebloods were nothing more than friends of hers. They were loyal to her - again, only kind of - and too young to really think critically about her lifestyle and her oddities. Thought they were suspicious at times, they were too infatuated to spend too much time worrying about their suspicions.

That's all I got at this point.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just finished STCP last night and have been googling for a discussion on the book.

My personal theory for a few of the points you brought up are as follows:

I don't think Gareth killed Hannah. This is simply because during Gareth's argument in Paris with the Nightwatchmen leader he is accused of not wanting to dirty his hands and staying in the safety of his podium. I think Hannah was murdered by another member of the group and we know that there must have been more members within the area because multiple people were necessary to carry off the first murder.

I think Hannah was murdered because she was about to leave the Nightwatchmen and was about to tell her secret to Blue. She seems to be experiencing quite a bit of guilt during the time leading up to her death (the drinking, the strange haircut, the bizarre conversations) and I think she was orchestrating her dissappearance in order to run from her colleagues and not the first victim's daughter. The murder was necessary to keep her silent.

Hannah's relationship with the bluebloods has confused me. The hypothesis that she was recruiting is interesting but Blue seemed to think that her father was recruiting professors leading me to think that they were interested in a more mature following. I almost think that Hannah was trying to recapture her youth which she threw away when she was 13 in order to join the Nightwatchmen.

I thought Gareth's dissappearance to be terribly out of character but I suppose that could be cleared up by saying that it was out of character as Blue perceived her father but not as a member of the Nightwatchmen.

Ok, those are my thoughts, sorry for stalking your blog for this conversation.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous hannah wallace said...

I'm glad you posted the question "Who Killed Hannah Schenider?" because that's exactly what I'm still trying to figure out.

I was intrigued by the idea (in the Final Exam) that Andreo Verduga could be the hit man for Hannah. And then I remembered: the smell of cologne. Go back and read the instances that Andreo (mysterious Andreo, who turns up at the house with a gun-shot wound, and tries to warn Blue--at the beginning of the novel!--about her own dad) turns up--Blue always mentions a strong cologne. (Her father mentions it in Walmart, too--a "horrific smell--acidic sap."
Then, later in the book (after Gareth's disappearance) when Blue finds his costume in the basement, she mentions that the smell reminds her of something--of "Howard, Wal-mart, Hannah's bedroom--that old Tahitian acidic sap..."
So that's a clear hint to me that Andreo wore Gareth's Brighella costume to the animal shelter party at Hannah's house, and possibly killed Smoke Harvey.
but, where else does Andreo turn up in the novel? (Besides Paris, where Blue thinks she sees him.) And there's no mention of that acidic cologne in the woods, is there? (I went back and read that scene, just in case.) So if we're meant to think that Andreo killed Hannah--there's no textual evidence, at least that I can find. (Except in the "Final Exam"--and the hint Pessl gives us there that Andreo was wearing his camoflauge gear he picked up at Wal-Mart.
Hmmm.. anyone else out there care to speculate about where else Andreo fits in? Is he the one meeting with Gareth all the nights Gareth says he's out with professors? or is he just a NightWatchmen hit man that comes and does their dirty work? (And does he wear glasses? I dont think he does...unless those are night vision goggles.)

And I agree with Anonymous that Gareth wouldn't sully his hands with an actual murder. But he was in love with Hannah (how well he hid it!) and I don't think Hannah was Blue's mom. Just affectionate because she knew and loved Blue's mom. (And felt sorry for tresspassing her.)

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this book really compelling. Kind of literature meets mystery. After I finished it I had to go back and reread the introduction and parts of the first few chapters.

Hannah is probably Blue's mother - I noticed early on that while both Garreth and Natasha have blond hair, Blue's is brown. Therefore, it's genetically impossible for both of them to be her parents (blond hair is recessive, two blond parents always produce blond children). I think Hannah couldn't keep her distance from Blue, and was going to confess everything before she was killed, BECAUSE Blue was her daughter. It also explains a lot of why Hannah insisted on bringing Blue into the group.

I do think Hannah was trying to recruit the bluebloods, including Blue, but I don't think Garreth was father to any of them but Blue.

Garreth probably killed Hannah (yes, he wears glasses - I checked after I finished the book). I also don't think Natasha and Hannah are the same person, but I don't think that Natasha commited suicide either. I think she was killed off by the Nightwatchmen, maybe even by Hannah, but I'm not sure why.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Might be a bit late to this discussion, but I'm only now finishing STICP.

I fixated on Hannah's relationship to Blue throughout my reading. The clue I've latched onto revealed itself with Hannah's new haircut, which made Blue think she'd seen her before. Then, when Blue found the 80's punk picture of Hannah with the spikey red hair (first mention I'd noted of her actual hair color), it fell into place. There was a woman who picked Blue up from school in the days after her mother's accident, one who sat in the driveway smoking in the car and whispering, "I'm sorry," to the garage. Remember it? Think it's in Chapter 2. Is this Hannah? Were she and Gareth having an affair at the time or was the apology for a not-quite accident? Like most of you, I'm going to go back and re-read the last 200 pages before tackling the first 50 again to see what else I can come up with.

12:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have any of you considered the chapter titles in developing your theories? I haven't read most of the books so I started with Othello. Othello is tricked(by an underling he trusts) in to believing that his wife has committed adultery and kills her. Any chance that Hannah tricked Gareth in to thinking Natasha had cheated?

Also, did I miss it or did Natasha's parents just dissappear from Blue's life? I don't remember reading that they had died.

9:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think Andreo Verduga killed Hannah. Toward the end of the chapter "Che Guevara Talks to Young People", a Nightwatchmen incident is described: in November 2000, Mark Lecinque hanged himself near Baton Rouge. If you go back and read the chapter where Andreo is introduced, it seems that the night he shows up on Blue's doorstep with the gunshot wound is exactly the night Mark Lecinque "hanged himself". Blue tells us it's November, she's 13 (so the year 2000 fits) and the Van Meers are living in Howard, Alabama (which we know is near
Baton Rouge because the sanitation company Gareth calls is from Baton Rouge). Also, Lecinque was found with a pistol that was "fully loaded, apart for a single bullet" (presumably that bullet is the one in Andreo).
So, it seems quite reasonable to conclude that Andreo did The Flying Demoiselle on Lecinque. And if that's the case, it's not much of a stretch to think that he did it on Hannah as well.

There's also the fact that Blue describes Andreo smoking cigarettes and throwing the stubs away without ever making sure they were extinguished; this matches the cigarette butt Leulah saw.

9:41 PM  
Blogger Drew Kalbach said...

Ah, anonymous noticed the biggest clue Pessl leaves us: the smoking gun, the still lit butt. She makes the point of illustrating that very clearly when Blue first meet Andreo and points it out again at the camp site. That, combined with all the other sighting of Andreo (esp. the Paris one, links him directly with the Nightwatchmen leader, whatshisface since they were in the same city as the same time). I think Andreo killed Hannah because she was going to run away and planned on telling Blue everything. I mean we can't be certain what Hannah was going to say, but I think her running away and disappearing is pretty certain. Also it's not a stretch that Hannah is in the Nightwatchmen if you consider the nighttime rendez-vous and that knife collection.

I also think it's fairly certain that Andreo had a hand in Smoke's death. Also take into account that Andreo was a terrible gardener and mostly sat around doing nothing. The gardener thing was a cover probably. And Blue did see a man wearing her father's costume at the party then smelled Andreo's cologne on the costume, placing him at the scene of Smoke's death.

As for Hannah and Garreth, they had an affair. Natasha was Hannah's good friend and when she found out I'm fairly certain she killed herself. But I'm positive Garreth and Hannah had an affair that lead to Natash's death.

The bluebloods probably were not the next generation of Nightwatchmen. Hannah was just... unstable.

Garreth's disappearance puzzles me the most. He could have easily tried to convince Blue that she was overreacting, something, but instead he just flees and pretty much solidifies her theories. I think that was stupid and absolutely unlike him. I really, really disliked that part.

All in all, I think Blue had it figured out pretty well. If Garreth hadn't disappeared it'd be a very different story. Blah. Also, we can't be sure that Babu au Rham is actually the Nightwatchmen leader, considering Blue herself says that, although she's relatively sure, she can't be positive from the picture. But he probably is the leader.

One other thing. My favorite part of the book were the chapter titles. Each title reflected the plot of the chapter. Moby Dick had a man drowning, Paradise Lost when Garreth leaves, The Trial when Blue first confronts Garreth about the Nightwatchmen. Absolutely awesome.

1:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finished Special Topics in Calamity Physics last night and like everyone else I sped through the last 200 pages and ended the book REALLY confused and dissappointed.
1. I think Hannah was killed by Gareth because she was getting to close to Blue and she was going to tell her everything so Gareth had to kill her.
2. Who the heck is Andreo whats his name?
3. I personally thought that Gareths dissappearence was EXTREMELY out of character and kind of ridiculous. I also think Blue's reaction was ridiculouse too.
3. I really did not understand what Hannah was trying to do with the Bluebloods and what was the point of the trip.
4. What was the point of the title, what does it mean in contrast to the story.
5. What was the point of the chapters. I noticed that some chapters had small similarities with what happened in the chapter. In Delverance which is about people who go down a river in the woods, in the STICP, the bluebloods and Hannah and Blue go into the mountains and bad things happen.
6. I kind of wanted to know what happened with the bluebloods in the end and why they were so mean to Blue.
7. Does anyone know why Milton was so mean to Blue.
8. Were Charles and Hannah in love or not.
Sorry it is just I have so many questions can somoeone answer or give ideas

12:56 PM  
Anonymous d money said...

Just summing up what everyone else said that I thought to be correct: Hannah Schneider WAS Blue's mother due to the fact that both Natasha and Gareth were blonde and BLue was a brunette. That is why Hannah involved Blue in the Bluebloods because she loved her and wanted to improve her social situation.

Nextly, ANdreo Verdugo killed Hannah Schneider. He was the nightwatchmen's lead hitman. His cig butt found in the woods and his bullet wound are clear evidence to this theory.

I loved STICP!!

8:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, I read the thread here and I found it interesting. However, these are my thoughts:

1) Hannah is Catherine Baker. Gareth and Gracey (masquerading as Baba Au Rhum) found Hannah a liability and killed her using the Flying Demoiselle technique.

2) Hannah meant to disappear and assume another identity. (Maybe go to Greece and love herself like she said to Eva Brewster.) Perhaps she knew she was going to be disposed of by the Nightwatchmen, so she staged a camping trip where she would say goodbye to all her bluebloods. She quite possibly meant to reveal her "Nightwatchmen" affiliation secret to Blue, but she was distracted by the killer in the woods. She left Blue without saying her final words and got killed.

3) Andreo Verduga is the Nightwatchmen's hitman. He was in the woods and murdered Hannah.

4) Hannah wasn't 'obsessed' with missing people, she was just doing some research because she wanted to go 'missing' herself. And escape murder at the hands of the Nightwatchmen.

5) Hannah meant for Blue and Milton to discover L'Avventura in her house and in the process learn that she had meant to disappear. She did not forsee that she would get murdered. She told Milton to accompany Blue ... because she wanted to try her hand at a little matchmaking.

6) Hannah is not a particularly pleasant character. She, being glamorous and beautiful herself, chooses to surround herself with students as beautiful and worthy as her. Hence the carefully filtered company of the bluebloods. Blue was only admitted into the 'elite' company because Hannah felt guilty about Blue's nonexistent social life (you see, Hannah was one of the reasons Natasha killed herself). Hannah's guilt manifests in a desire to help Blue. Ordinarily, Hannah wouldn't care about a Nobody like Blue.

7) Gareth (known as Socrates, a prominent Nightwatchman) abandoned Blue because he was afraid of losing face in his daughter's eyes. See, Blue now knows that her father was one of the orchestrators of Hannah's death. Perhaps Gareth left Blue because of Blue's knowledge of the Nightwatchmen.

8) Milton does not love Blue - he takes advantage of her, in fact. He kisses Blue because he is on the rebound from breaking up with Joalie.

9) Charles did not sleep with Hannah. Nuh-uh. He just had a BIG fat crush on her. I don't think Hannah cares much for Charles. Hannah strikes me as too self-loving.

8) Leulah is LE BITCH (excuse my French). The animosity between Leulah and Blue is so THERE.

9) Jade cares about Blue the most. Insofar as any of the bluebloods give a dime about Blue, of course.

10) Hannah is not prostitute. The Cottonwood incidents are probably veiled Nightwatchmen meetings. Lion sex at Dynasty Motel? Hmm...

11) No one cares about Blue except Gareth. And Zach. And perhaps Mr Moots.

12) Zach is heavily insulted by the bluebloods (Blue van Meer included) but in reality he is King of Gallway High. In other words, he is THE hot guy - captain of the soccer team, etc etc. He perhaps rivals Charles in terms of looks. The bluebloods settle for calling him a coupon, because they think he is 'plain'. Blue has really scored. And she does in fact realise this at the end of the novel. I assume that Blue and Zach live happily ever after. I hope.

Mojomom, your comments were really thought-provoking, and I tried to come up with my own frail answers just for the fun of it:

Hannah and Natasha were very close schoolfriends, but Hannah betrayed Natasha by having a really hot affair with Gareth. Hence Natasha's suicide, and HAnnah's ensuing guilt. Hannah talks about "delicate" people to Blue the night Blue sleeps over, and Hannah was referring to Natasha.

I think Gareth is an emotionally numb genius who loves knowledge more than he loves people. He tries to love Blue but cannot stop lying to her.

I'm swimming around in speculations here. I'd better stop.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hm. I think that the inherant beauty in this book is that it is not actually meant to be 'solved'. That said, I'm going to throw out a few ideas anyway.

I dislike the idea of Hannah being Blue's mother. Although her affair with Gareth was likely, I doubt that something that obvious (especially to those present at the birth) could be faked -and I doubt that Natasha would consent to padding her clothes for months beforehand to keep up the illusion, if she knew that it was her husband's child, but not hers. I think that that while Blue was Natasha was Blue's mother, she knew about Gareth and Hannah and it drove her to suicide. The idea of the NWM killing her is tempting, but let's not forget Gareth's importance to the group and the stress that Blue gives to the fact that if he loved anyone, it would be her and Natasha. That's assuming that Blue was correct about his involvement, becasue if not, then there would be no reason for Natasha to be killed anyway. Blue's abnormal hair colour can be explained by a simple oversight on behalf of the author. I had an idea that hair colour was controlled by more than one allele pair, although I may be wrong...

I like the idea of Verduga as an assasin for the NWM. The facts line up and it would be a complex and deep twist. Never did understand why he talked like that though.

I don't think that the Bluebloods were officially being groomed for the NWM. Hannah may have had ideas for them in that direction, but that would most likely have been due to wanting to see her own philosophies rub off on the children taht meant so much to her (due to the lonliness of her false identity). We all try, consciously or not, to influence our friends and bring them around to our own line of thought. However, I doubt that Sevro or Gareth would have approved. The line of men Gareth talked to (all evidently old enough to pass as university professors) and Gareth own age when he joined seem to indicate a preference for an older, more mature recruit.

There are many more ideas above that I would love to comment on. However, as most of these ideas I disagree with, as they make the plot unrealistically convoluted (Gareth's fatherhood of the BlueBloods, Eva's warning), and I don't really want to get involved in a prolonged debate, I will simnply finish off with my take on Gareth's leaving. Firstly, I don't believe that it was out of character. Gareth moved around constantly through the first few chapters, only settling in one place to have an uninterrupted senior year for Blue (although he may have had ulterior motives that I simply haven't noticed yet). Blue even throws out at one pojnt the idea that he was running from her mother's ghost- the key word being running. When faced with a large enough problem, I believe that Gareth's immediate response would be to simply move away, the instinct for travel so deeply ingrained.
As to the reason, I believe that Blue had it right. He simply couldn't face Blue's disapproval. If you recall, it was actually the notes from Smoke that tipped her off to Sevro's identity, and thus her father's, and while he couldn't have known about them at the time, he didn't underestimate her ability to work it out. Thus he simply reverted to his natural behavior and left. And while some say that his leaving made her realise that she was right, it didn't. She had no idea why he left until she discovered Sevro's identity, and even then she was unsure (as shown in the final exam question). If her fatehr hadn't left, and had still been around, it would have been easy for her to question himk. As it was, she had no proof and wasn't even sure if she was right.

One final note; several people have complained (not necessarily in this forum) about the annoying nature of the final exam. I thin k that the ambiguous nature of the questions, and the lack of answers, despite the 'scoring', are meant to show us that in fact, no answer was wrong and it all came down to how you interpreted it. The fact that some of the questions were True/Flase just furthur illustrates that in life, there is no definate, and everything is based on perception, with no way of determining the actual answer.

2:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I realize that I am eons late, but I really want to congratulate all of you. These comments have really cleared things up for me and put things into perspective. I was itching for some sort of conclusion and coherence to the events towards the end.

What I have compiled:
Verduga killed Schneider because she was going to reveal to Blue that Garreth and herself were associated with the Nightwatchmen. Servo felt that Schneider might become a liability, and had Verduga watch Schneider. He may have been ordered to eliminate Schneider if he felt something fishy. Verduga used Schneider's trust in him (the fact that they were Nightwatchmen) and made her come looking for him in hopes of dissuading him from killing her.

I was saddened by Garreth's leaving Blue. Even if he had kept such a secret from her, she is his daughter.

Something I like to believe when reading a book or watching a movie is that no characters are named if they aren't significant to the story.

This has become one of my favorite books. It is ridiculously complex and can only be understood (and only to a certain extent at that) if armed with the cultural knowledge that Blue posses (something I, myself, do not have). I look forward to her next book, which I believe to be Night Film.

4:06 AM  
Anonymous Tony A said...

Many of these comments helped me. I was sure another NWM killed Hannah - Gareth loved her and wasn't a violent person - but I now am convinced it was Andreo (cig butt). Hannah & Natasha aren't the same person nor was Hannah Blue's mom. Gareth has to leave because he's not going to keep Blue from going to the police any other way. He probably always knew he might have to do this some day: he provided for her financially and he believed she was old enough to manage on her own.

What I loved about the book was:
1) the use of quirky imagery and wonderful wod pictures that kept my mind working;
2)the structure, with beginning syllabus, book/story titles for chapters and ending test. Remember Gareth says that a teacher organizes a piece of the world and puts a frame around it; and
3) the involved plot with many loose ends, but with the feeling that it's all come out all right.

5:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok, I'm so super late to this conversation because I just finished the book last night, too (Oct 2009). Intriguing book.
1) I agree with those who have posted that Hannah is NOT Blue's mother, but cares for her due to history of the Natasha-Gareth-Hannah love triangle.

2) I think Hannah was going to tell the truth to Blue that night, and that she was staging her disappearance, only to be murdered. Whether she was murdered by the NW because she was about to spill the beans and leave the NW, or because she was "out of control, killing Smoke Harvey, etc" - I'm not sure. Convincing arguments for both motives, but likely the former.
3) I am intrigued that Andreo was the hit man and Gareth (or possibly Servo/Gracie) ordered the hit. I had been puzzled why Blue, when she was piecing together Hannah's involvement in the NW, wasn't remembering that she had seem someone in a Brighalla costume, like her father's, at Hannah's party ... so when she found the costume, with the familiar smell, even though she couldn't think of what it reminded her of, I was glad that detail had been addresses. And it made me think that Andreo was defintely involved.

4) As for Gareth's true feelings towards Blue: I do think he loved her dearly, and while his disappearance was troubling (perhaps uncharacteristic), I think he left to protect not just himself, but also Blue. The closer her remained to her, the more likely that she would suffer injury or death, given his connection to the NW. And he had prepared her for her whole life to move on, and live independently, given the way he raised her (to be a smart, critically thinking woman, who could take care of herslef - look how often he left her alone as she was growing up. Seems negligent, but in the context, excellent practice at independence for her - even it was unwittingly on his part). He also left money for her to find ($3000 in the mug in the kitchen) for her immediate needs, and as it turns out, set up an account (more money) for her, so she wouldn't be left to fend (finacially) for herself. And the L'Aventurra film: I realize Hannah left it there for Blue to find, to explain the story, and Blue thought it was Hannah's way of saying "you will never find me but you must move on with your life"; BUT, after Blue explains everything she found to Gareth, I think he realizes has HAS to get out and for Blue's protection, leave her out of the whole messy affair. He knows that Blue can and will, in the long run, take care of herself, and Gareth also wants Blue to just move on with her life, as the characters in L'Aventurra did (his favorite film, don't forget) - possibly forget about him. Of course she can't - he is her father, her caretaker for most of her life that she can actually remember - I believe he underestimated the emotional impact on her. But, in the end, she made it to Harvard, and "wrote down her story" (as Gareth suggested, rather than going to the police; and by the way, HE came up with the title STCP when he was [subtly] trying to convince her to not go to the police with her findings).

Whew, anyway, I'm glad I stuck with the book, b/c there were times when I didn't want to. Excellent discussion!!!


10:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Haven´t quite finished STCP, but searched the WEB for NWM references and found you guys. The whole unfinished ending is of course referenced someplace (couldn´t be bothered searching for it, you guys know where I mean), when Pessl says that the hoi-polloi like their story-line endings neatly sewed up, etc. etc. That was my first inkling that this mystery wasn´t going to be explicitly solved so neatly. Darn. I hate having to think for myself. Not sure yet if I resent the literary trick or think it´s neat, I´ll just read on and see.....

6:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am about to finish reading this book for the second time, which I did specifically to look for clues as they develop. I only have one thing I want to add to the discussion. In the Othello chapter (and yes, as someone mentioned, Othello kills his wife because he is misled about her fidelity), where Blue describes her mother's death, Blue says that her mother had a strong sense of justice, and would not be kept silent about a perceived wrong. The suggested affair between Hannah and Blue's Dad is a nice story, but I think Natasha discovered something she was not supposed to, and was disposed of. The later references to Natasha's fragility, and Hannah's guilt about hurting a friend could relate to her assassination rather than an affair. This possibility would also lend weight to Gareth's disappearance; if his wife had been killed for discovering the truth, his daughter could as well. The only way to protect her was to stop her from going to the police, which he did very effectively.

10:52 AM  

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