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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Title: Night Film
Author: Marisha Pessl
Copyright: 2013
Pages: 624
ISBN: 9781400067886
Publisher: Random House
Author Website:
Twitter: @marishapessl, @atrandom
Format: ARC picked up at ALA
Available: August 20, 2013
Rating: 4/5 stars

Marisha Pessl's sophomore novel, Night Film, is a hard creature to categorize. Part occult thriller, part mystery, part WTFery, part paranormal chiller, part crazy, drug-induced reading material, I had no idea half the time where the story was going. I kept thinking, "Oh, this must be It! The Thing. The Thing causing all the crazy in these people's lives!" But no, I was wrong, every time.

The book opens with the apparent suicide of Ashley Cordova, daughter of legendary film director Stanislas Cordova, whose films are so gut wrenching and insanity inducing that they have been more or less banned from theaters and only available as bootlegged editions or played in catacombs around the world in the middle of the night (hence, the name, Night Film. Disgraced journalist Scott McGrath (who became a disgraced journalist due to his earlier work trying to uncover the secrets around Cordova) decides to investigate Ashley's death, to see if there is more to it than a simple suicide. What follows is this rabbit hole of a twisty, turny nightmare for Scott and Hopper and Nora, two people Scott reluctantly take on as "assistants" and who may or may not have something more to do with Ashley than they initially let on.

The story starts off relatively normal (for lack of a better word), but with each discovery made about Ashley's life, the stranger the turns in the story become. Most of it seems highly implausible, but the nature of the book makes even the most implausible turns in the story seem plausible in this book's particular world. Once the characters start down the rabbit hole of piecing together the last couple of days of Ashley's life, the reader needs to stop trying to make sense of what is happening in the story. Just go with it. It inevitably works in the end, even though there are sections of the book that made me feel that I may have been going a bit crazy myself. This is the thing with Pessl; I don't know that I can honestly say that she's a great writer. She's a good writer, just not great. What she is great at, though, is telling a story. Crafting it, honing it, making you feel a little like you're going down your own rabbit hole while reading the story, and when you finally come out the other end, you're left honestly wondering what just happened. It's been several days since I finished Night Film, and I can honestly say I don't really know what to make of the book. There are bits referenced towards the end of the book that I don't actually remember reading, but I'm sure are there. There are bits of the story that I had to read two or three times to make sure I could understand what exactly was happening, and I'm still not entirely sure I know what was going on. Most of what I'm talking about doesn't occur until the last 1/4 of the book, but once you read it, you'll know what I'm talking about. So, Pessl isn't a great writer, but she's able to carry off a damned good story over the course of a 600 page book with her own style and sense of ease.


Dear lord, somebody needs to tell that woman that intelligent readers are able to figure out when emphasis or sarcasm are being implied in writing, and she doesn't need to italicize Every. Single. Instance. Every. Single. Time. No joke. Pessl wields italics like a child with a new toy; as if she just discovered the italicize function on her computer, so therefore must use it everywhere. There are at least 6-10 italicized words/phrases per page. PER PAGE! When you take into account this book clocks in around 600 pages, that is a staggeringly overused amount of italics. It's not always used for inner dialogue. If there was quite a bit of inner dialogue, that would be one thing, but sometimes it's just random words in a paragraph. Maybe she does it on purpose, and I'm sorry to keep going on about this, but damn, it is seriously distracting. I would find myself ripped out of the story, just to count the number of instances per page. Less is more, Marisha Pessl. Less is more.

OK. I got that out of the way. (Seriously. The italics bugged me. A lot.)

Now, I also need to talk about a very, very cool aspect of this book. Pessl is clearly very aware of the digital age we live in, so uses some very clever techniques in the book to create a sort of multimedia presentation in print form. Included within the pages of the story are text messages, web pages, court documents, phone transcripts, photos, magazine articles, etc., all of which help to tell the story and carry it along. These techniques also help to blur the line between fiction and reality, giving the book a slightly otherworldly feel, almost as if we may actually be reading the true account of the real-life journalist Scott McGrath and his real-life investigation into the larger-than-life, mysterious presence that is Stanislas Cordova.

And just take a moment to appreciate that cover up there. I LOVE the cover on this book. Whoever put the entire package of this book together did a bang up job.

So, I guess I can recommend the book, but with some reservation. I don't think it's going to be for everyone, but no book ever is, right? All I know is that Marisha Pessl impressed me enough that I picked up her first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and am looking forward to starting that. If you like something a little out of the ordinary, something that is a little unique, you'd be hard-pressed to find something better than Night Film.

Happy reading!

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