Night Film by Marisha Pessl (4 out of 5)



Well, this is certainly unlike a book I’ve ever read. I was, and continue to be, bowled over by the media contained in this book. The photographs, police reports, articles, and various media that go hand in hand with the plot. In that regard, I was reminded of House of Leaves, one of my other favorite books of all time. But that’s not where the fun ends. 

This is Marisha Pessl’s second book. Her first, Special Topics In Calamity Physics, was a NYT bestseller and it won several other book awards of note. I think Night Film just hit the NYT last week. Since it’s been out a little while now, I am puzzled why it took so long for this one to hit. I think we’ll blame Dan Brown’s suckage novel that’s been there for months. Sadly, people continue to read that rubbage and not quality literature such as this novel. 

Night Film is the story of the elusive Stanislas Cordova, moviemaker of violent, disturbing cerebral films filmed with alarming alacrity and vengeance at the core. The way these films are described in detail – not only by Scott McGrath, our narrator, but also by the media covering Cordova’s movies in the articles in the book, you feel as if they really exist. And you want to check them out yourself! The only problem is, well, they don’t exist. His story is brought to us in its entirety- or, I should say, what we know, or suspect we know, of his story, by Scott McGrath, the narrator. McGrath is a shunned former investigative reporter and author, whose obsession with Cordova not only derailed his marriage and relationship with his only daughter, but his career. His burning need to expose Cordova (for crimes he believes were committed) leads to his being blacklisted. McGrath can’t let it rest, and neither can Cordova’s hardcore fans (Cordovites), when Cordova’s daughter Ashley commits suicide. Theories abound, McGrath gets some anonymous tips, and he’s off- again.  Cordova’s reclusive state and the fact that he’s never photographed, his wives met mysterious ends, his estate is some mysterious dumping ground for medical equipment, no one in the immediate family is ever photographed, the stars in his movies either disappear or meet odd ends, and everything is super hush-hush, feeds McGrath’s suspicious nature, and the fires of suspicion run wild. 

McGrath gets help in the forms of Hopper, a drug dealer who was somehow mixed up with Ashley and who is now not only mourning her death but searching for answers, as he believes it was not suicide, and Nora, an impressionable homeless girl who nurses a little crush on Scott, but who is dying to help out in any way she can (adrenaline is a heady mistress). Most of their ideas center around the myterious Inez Gallo, who is Cordova’s right hand (wo)man. It seems she makes all the major decisions and is seen more than the actual family. Scott gets himself into a pickle, and a startling kaleidoscope of events tilt and twirl like a ride at the carnival, and Scott ends up with the two at The Peak, which is Cordova’s estate. they have to break through booby-trapped fences and get through a number of what turn out to be psychological obstacle courses, to get into the compound itself. Hopper and Nora get out, Scott goes through some strange chain of events that sound to me like someone drugged him or he went on one hell of an acid trip. Read the book; decide that one for yourself. Scott’s daughter Samantha is injured when an interrogation she wasn’t supposed to be at goes awry, and Scott’s ex wife pulls their daughter away from visitation with him as a result. That doesn’t stop him. Nothing seems to stop him. Every review I have read says it’s revenge. My take is that his life is so empty and devoid of pretty much anything of consequence, so he seeks out something to rustle up, to give his empty, depressive life, something to keep him going. in this case, his quiet obsession with Cordova is sparked anew by Ashley’s suspicious suicide. How does it play out? Holy crap, even if I wanted to put a spoiler or two (And I don’t- I don’t do that!) in this review, I’d have to trudge through 1,200 words of what led to that point. It’s that intricate of a novel. Maybe it took Pessl so long to write a follow-up to Calamity Physics, because she had to rationalize this tale. Twisted, intricate, psychologically riveting, fascinating, visually stunning, and the end- well, that’s where it lost the five stars, and got governed a four star review.

The end is where she lost me. You have this absolutely stunning tour de force of literature, and then the end. I had skimmed this beast over three days a few weeks back, then set it down after I read the end. I told Dan, my coworker who LOVES it, that I had to have time to re-read and concentrate, because I had to have missed something. Because the end, my friends, does not make a bit of fucking sense to me. Some part of me can buy into it, but then that means I have to discount a good portion of what I’ve read, and that’s upsetting, because the setup and carry through is excellent. The end to all of this was what did it. It wraps up way too easily, and way too…well, happily. Maybe I need to re-read it a third time to figure out that something else is lurking there, but I don’t think so. I think I genuinely am puzzled by the end. That’s why I went back and re-read it again, because the ending the first time got me to go “What the hell is this? That can’t be right.” The second time I finished it- last night- I set it down and said “What the fuck? What the fuck? Why that route?”. That means, though, that I really love the hell out of this book. If I didn’t care that much, I wouldn’t have found the time to read the same 700 something page book twice in two weeks. I also wouldn’t have been so damn wound up about the end, and I still am. So bravo, Marisha Pessl, because you truly are remarkable in the delivery of this novel, not only the visual format, but also in the written format. I only say that I wished for a different ending. I still think Cordova and Inez Gallo are, no doubt, the best characters in the whole book. McGrath, 90% of the book, I thought a selfish bastard who needed to grow up and accept responsibility for his actions. I still think not so highly of him, but if the character hadn’t been so annoying, there wouldn’t have been anything to base the novel on, so he served his purpose. 

Read this book- it’s beyond excellent. I would be thrilled to see what everyone else’s thoughts are on the ending, and the whole reveal. I loved this book, it’s definitely in my top 10, I just can’t go the 5-star route, because of that Chinet and Dandelions ending. Don’t let that deter you from trying it, it’s completely worth the time it takes to read it. 



~ by generationgbooks on September 16, 2013.

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