Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Posted September 8, 2015 by Taryn in Reviews / 0 Comments

Night Film by Marisha PesslNight Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by Random House Publishing Group on August 20th 2013
Genres: Fiction, Thrillers, Suspense, Literary, Psychological, General
Pages: 640
Format: Hardcover
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Immersive and interactive literary thriller. Unsettling exploration into the strange and fascinating world surrounding a fictional horror-film director. By the end, you’ll probably forget Stanislas Cordova is not a real person!

It was always surprising to me how ferociously the public mourned a beautiful stranger–especially one from a famous family. Into that empty form they could unload the grief and regret of their own lives, be rid of it, feel lucky and light for a few days, comforted by the thought, At least that wasn’t me.

Ashley Cordova, a brilliant pianist and the beautiful 24-year-old daughter of the reclusive, legendary director Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in suspected suicide. Disgraced journalist Scott McGrath sees the suspicious case as an opportunity to redeem himself and seek vengeance. He had previously issued serious allegations against Stanislas Cordova using information obtained from a single, anonymous source; his career and family life was destroyed when the famed director sued him for slander. Finding out what really happened to Ashley could be the key to exposing the director’s darkest secrets and restoring Scott’s journalistic integrity. While on his obsessive search for clues, Scott reluctantly teams up with two young, wannabe amateur sleuths, both of whom seem to be hiding something. The investigative trio end up on wild and sometimes surreal journey that leads to some unexpected places.

I love to put my characters in the dark. It’s only then that I can see exactly who they are. -Stanislas Cordova

I have been in a bit of a reading slump lately. I started and abandoned about 15 books last month! I think it is a consequence of too many non-fiction books in a row! I saw Night Film in the B&N clearance section ($5 Hardcover!) and I knew it was just what I needed.


I am really glad I got a hard copy of this book, instead of an ebook or an audiobook. Many of the clues are actually in the book and there are web pages and reference documents scattered throughout its pages. There is also an interactive app you can download, which allows you to scan pages with the bird symbol and receive more detailed information. For instance, when you scan the page with Ashley’s CD cover you hear one of her recordings. There is also an enlightening set of diary entries from the lead actress in a Cordova film, written while she was living on the set. It is a really immersive experience and, surprisingly, it doesn’t come off as gimmicky. I wish I had known about the app before I got to the end of the book!

“You’ll find that great artists don’t love, live, fuck, or even die like ordinary people. Because they always have their art. It nourishes them more than any connection to people. Whatever human tragedy befalls them, they’re never too gutted, because they need nobly to pour that tragedy into their vat, stir in the other lurid ingredients, blast it over a fire. What emerges will be even more magnificent than if the tragedy had never occurred.”

The atmosphere is perfect and New York City is a character in itself. Pessl sets the stage with all the lights and dark shadows of an Edward Hopper painting. Scott, Nora, a free-spirited aspiring actress, and Hopper, a slacker drug dealer, are the main investigators. The relationship between the three evolves from an uneasy alliance to an endearing camaraderie, but they aren’t the most interesting part of the novel. The book is at its best when it is exploring the dark underbelly of society and Cordova’s back story. I loved the interviews with damaged people and the visit to a very unique, hidden night club. One of my favorite sections was when Scott was stumbling around The Peak. View Spoiler »

Pessl creates an impressive, looming presence for both Cordovas, even though we primarily see them in the periphery through secondhand sources. The author seamlessly incorporates Stanislas Cordova in real-world Hollywood. It can be so hard to naturally integrate fictional characters among real people, but in this case it solidified Cordova’s place in filmmaking history. The films of Cordova are so psychologically damaging that some are only available to see in underground screenings shrouded in secrecy. I wish the Cordova films described actually existed!

“The problem with you, McGrath,” said Beckman, draining the bottle into our glasses, “is that you’ve no respect for murk. For the blackly unexplained. The un-nail-downable. You journalists bulldoze life’s mysteries, ignorant of what you’re so ruthlessly turning up, that you’re mining for something quite powerful that”–he sat back in his chair, his dark eyes meeting mine–“does not want to be found. And it will not.”

Night Film explores the cult surrounding larger-than-life celebrities and the extraordinary lives we want those celebrities to have, our perceptions of reality, the mechanics of fear and the fantastical worlds we create to bridge the gap created by the the unknown and unknowable. My only real complaint is that it is a bit bloated at almost 600 pages. While it is fast-paced, it loses its momentum at parts. Some of the similes and metaphors were distracting, but not entirely out of place in a novel of this genre. I also have so many questions! View Spoiler » Even though the end wasn’t anything as concrete as that, I liked the thoughtful questions the ending ponders.

…an artist like him needs just one fundamental thing in order to thrive. And he’ll do anything to keep it…Darkness. I know it’s hard to fathom today, but a true artist needs darkness in order to create. It gives him his power. His invisibility. The less the world knows about him, his whereabouts, his origins and secret methods, the more strength he has. The more inanities about him the world eats, the smaller and drier his art until it shrinks and shrivels into a Lucky Charms marshmallow to be consumed in a little bowl with milk for breakfast. Did you really think he’d ever let that happen?

I was never really scared, but I did feel uneasy! If you are turned off by anything that has even an inkling of the occult in it, you probably want to avoid this novel. This book is best read in the dark, under a book light. If you like mysteries with journalists as the main protagonist and you have any interest in filmmaking or the culture surrounding artistic geniuses, this is a memorable book that is worth the read.

I felt let down. I always did, slightly, when I’d come to the end of an investigation, when, looking around, I realized there were no more dark corners to plumb.
And yet–this was different. The desolation came from the realization that all of the kirin were dead. View Spoiler »
And her truth razed everything, clear-cut that magical and dark jungle I’d wandered into following Ashley’s footprints, revealing that I was actually standing on flat dry land, which was blindingly lit, but barren.


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