Book Review: Marisha Pessl brings together Literature, Social Media and Film in the thriller 'Night Film'



With her creative take on fiction writing, Marisha Pessl takes us on a journey of discovery alongside investigative reporter Scott McGrath. Initially not the most affable character, McGrath is divorced, middle-aged, sarcastic and quite cynical. But if that doesn’t make him hard-boiled enough, Pessl makes him  a New Yorker, the first warning of the author’s heavy-handedness by leaning on stereotypes. He is obsessed with finding the truth about cult-filmmaker Stanislas Cordova, who carries the air of genius akin to Stanley Kubrick or Alejandro Jodorowsky.

The book opens with the enigmatic death of the filmmaker’s daughter, Ashley, a child prodigy who, at 24, commits suicide. This is pretext enough for Scott to go on with an investigation he abandoned years earlier after he prematurely accused Cordova of abusing children. The chase takes Scott through a creepy little town, a high-end secretive club reminiscent of the orgy cult in Eyes Wide Shut, and an even more secret online community where stories about Cordova are shared. Along the way, he meets Hopper, an elusive New York hipster who knew Ashley when she was a teenager, and a 19-year-old girl who makes a move on Scott.

Night Film is an enjoyable read, an immersive experience that does not drag on and unfolds at a fast pace. Especially for film lovers and mystery seekers, Night Film takes you to this other world where film and life seem to meld. At some points, you feel like you are in a movie theater watching a horror film. Though the scenery is spellbinding, the characters all seem to share the same voice. Pessl cannot seem to invest the same amount of detail in her characters as well as their settings, which comes across as incredibly detailed.

Night Film is packed with interesting concepts that move you beyond the horror films or the creepiness of the surroundings to something deeper. For instance, Cordova’s films are all predicated upon the belief that being in touch with visceral fear and death is a life-affirming experience that can set you free. The investigation takes the trio into the realm of the supernatural and challenges them and the reader into questioning whether “other worlds” or “evil forces” exist.

Do not let the daunting 600+ page count deter you, Night Film will still engross you and all your senses as it comes packed with interactive tools. A smartphone app can be downloaded, and although it did not have the best reviews when I downloaded it for my iPhone, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The book prompts you to use the app to bring some background to certain stories embedded in the story. My favorite was a children’s book that belonged to the mysterious filmmaker Cordova, the app contains a reading of the eerie tale in that children’s book, and many other tidbits of information such as a full police file, a poem and so on. There’s even a trailer for this book:

Thiauthor-photos is Pessl’s second novel. Her first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, received high praise as the recipient of the 2006 John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize.

You can catch Marisha Pessl at Books & Books in the Gables for a special event on Oct. 10 at 8 PM.

265 Aragon Ave
Coral Gables, Florida

Buy Night Film here or read an excerpt here.

Ana Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Ana Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)


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