Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Even after 600 pages, you might want more – and you can get it!

Reading time: 2 ½ minutes –

If a book’s value can be measured by how much you think about it in the days after Night Filmfinishing, Night Film measures up as a valuable book. That’s not a universal opinion I’ve learned in the days after I closed the back cover. Why so many harsh reviews?

I chalk it up to two things:

  • Reviewers, looking for a sophomore jinx from Pessl after her blockbuster debut (Special Topics in Calamity Physics), and
  • The book’s daring attempt at a multimedia approach, which seemingly received nothing but disdain.

The novel stands tall on its own without the need for the added interactive elements. If you’re a fan of exquisite writing, you’ll eat this up like turkey on Thanksgiving – going back for seconds and thirds even after you’re full. Or, in this case, staying up way past your bedtime for one more bite. And since many of the chapters are bite-size, you’ll have an easy time doing it. The narrative is so rich in language, it swallows you whole in some sections.

In brief, the novel follows investigative reporter Scott McGrath as he unravels two mysteries: why beautiful, 24-year-old Ashley Cordova took her life and what part her reclusive father had to do with it. Her father, the artistic and talented but fiercely dark director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. His films are so scary they’re been banned from American movie houses, but his cult followers cling to his every move – real or imagined.

McGrath is accompanied by a couple of interesting sidekicks – you’ll instantly fall in love with Nora Halliday who would be played by Kaley Cuoco in my version of the movie – and tolerate the brooding Hopper because there’s as much mystery in him as in the subject of the book.

Meeting Cordova in the final act turns out to be reminiscent of sailing up the river and finally getting the introduction to Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. After so much buildup, it’s hard to deliver, and neither does in their respective stories. But maybe that’s the point.

In this story, Pessl takes your reading experience up a level in this book. It’s nothing close to a graphic novel, but within its pages are (fictitious) articles from Rolling Stone, screen shots from web pages (New York Times, Vulture, Time), a torn piece from a phone book and other haunting images. Further, when you reach the end, there’s a note that opens up an interactive world beyond the book if you want to continue the experience.

After reading 600+ pages, I’m not sure how many people took her up on the offer, but I can tell you I tried and had no luck downloading the app. It seems to have closed up shop, like The Peak in the story. However, I was able to find and play a few of the videos online and was stunned by how different her Scott McGrath was than the one in my mind. Rather than be bothered by that (as so many reviewers are), I looked at it as no different than a movie. After all, the six-foot-five Jack Reacher is portrayed by Tom Cruise who clocks in about a foot short of that.

So don’t worry about the Easter Eggs left behind at the end of the story. Don’t worry about the interactive angle. The book is gorgeously written. That it’s innovative in other forms should enhance it if you like that kind of thing; but don’t let it distract you if you’re not into it. The story is still dazzling.

3 thoughts on “Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

  1. It’s all (and always) about the writing! From this review, it sounds like she more than met the mark. This must be the book you were talking about after you sent…? Yeah. Like me reading BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA after Dixie. Sob.

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