I think I switched my rating between three stars and four stars half a dozen times before settling on three - Night Film does a lot of things right, bI think I switched my rating between three stars and four stars half a dozen times before settling on three - Night Film does a lot of things right, but it still didn't quite work for me.
At the center of the book is a highly successful cult filmmaker, Stanislas Cordova, whose output was from the beginning dark and horrifying, and later became so unsettling that his films were no longer commercially available and had to be watched at covert screenings in tunnels and under bridges. He has a following of obsessed fans who believe his movies expose you to the darkest corners of experience so that you can learn to live without fear. He is a total recluse and hasn't been seen or released a new movie in years.
The book opens with the apparent suicide of his 24-year-old daughter Ashley, a former piano prodigy. Her death causes journalist Scott McGrath to reopen old files on Cordova - files that resulted in him becoming totally disgraced as a journalist after publicly accusing Cordova of engaging in sinister activities in real life, not just on the screen. Scott, along with two twenty-something sidekicks he meets in the course of his investigations, becomes convinced that the whole Cordova family is involved in something truly dark, maybe even paranormal.
The book is frequently interspersed with text-heavy images of web pages, magazine articles, and items from Scott's case files, so that you alternate between hearing Scott's perspective and looking at the media he's looking at. There is also an app, Night Film Decoder, that allows you to access additional content like audio, video, movie posters, and journal entries at specific points in the book. A lot of the additional content in the app is throwaway, but a few of them do really serve to heighten the creepy feeling of learning more and more about Cordova's world.
The narrative is compelling, and I found myself staying up late several nights in a row to read just a few more chapters - but the writing is not actually very good, the characters are two-dimensional, and I just couldn't suspend my disbelief quite enough to accept some of the book's premises (especially the way Pessl seemed to want Cordova to be both a cult filmmaker whose films are so horrific that most people can't bear to watch them and a highly successful, household-name director who earned a Best Director Academy Award).
I had heard from a lot of other people that the ending of the book was a big disappointment, and when Pessl kept mentioning how Cordova's films consistently end in a way that leaves the entire story open to multiple interpretations, I was pretty sure this meant that Night Film was going to end without any resolution - and indeed, the book falls flat when it stops abruptly, but in a way that felt more like giving up than like leaving the reader with anything to wrestle with. It wasn't a cliffhanger kind of situation where I felt angry at the author for leaving me to decide what happened next; it felt more like the author wasn't sure where else to go with the story and decided to cut it off in hopes of seeming "mysterious."
Overall I feel like Night Film does some really interesting things, but it's a lot of surface without the depth it promises. It's not nearly as creepy or as smart as it sets out to be, though I liked the premise enough that I was able to forgive some of that just because I wanted to see where the story would go next. It's an interesting book, but not one I'd specifically recommend to anyone because I think the execution could have been so much better than it was....more
I really enjoyed this book, which is actually two stories - the titular "Kitchen," at around 100 pages, followed by "Moonlight Shadow" at just over 40I really enjoyed this book, which is actually two stories - the titular "Kitchen," at around 100 pages, followed by "Moonlight Shadow" at just over 40.
Both stories have similar characteristics - the main character in each is a young woman who suffered a deep loss; each woman is befriended by a stranger who helps her begin to recover; each story has a male character who dresses as a woman; food and eating are important elements in both; and both are told in a very dreamlike tone.
I particularly enjoyed "Kitchen," about a young woman who finds herself alone in the world after her grandmother dies. She tells her tale in a very matter-of-fact way, even as unusual situations arise - she's lost the last family member she had, and nothing else can surprise her or get a strong reaction out of her. She begins to realize that she finds solace in the kitchen more than anywhere else, so she teaches herself to cook, and while traveling with her new job as assistant to a chef she begins to recognize what is still important to her in her life. There are a lot of really lovely descriptions of preparing and eating food.
"Moonlight Shadow" is also about a young woman who loses someone very close to her, but it's a much more magical take on making your way through the early stages of grief. The narrator takes up running as a way to get out of her head for a while, and during one early-morning run she meets a strange, fascinating woman on a bridge. They don't exchange any contact information, but the woman is somehow able to track her down again and promises to help her experience a ghostly phenomenon. It's still a lovely story but the magical elements kept it from feeling as powerful as "Kitchen."...more
I am embarrassed to admit that this is the first Truman Capote I've read, though I definitely intend to read more now.
The book I read is, I think, theI am embarrassed to admit that this is the first Truman Capote I've read, though I definitely intend to read more now.
The book I read is, I think, the most standard presentation of "Breakfast at Tiffany's": The novella followed by three other, much shorter stories. My rating is for the entire book, though I think "Breakfast at Tiffany's" as a standalone story deserves five stars.
"Breakfast at Tiffany's," the story, is about a woman making a living in the man's world of 1940s New York City by encouraging men to become infatuated with her; she goes out to dinner at the fanciest restaurants and comes home with gifts of money or jewelry, and may take the men home with her too if she pleases. Her ditzy, flighty persona is revealed to be finely crafted, and as we get to know her better we see how carefully she calculates her risks in order to live ever more comfortably.
The other three stories ran the gamut. "House of Flowers" was the low point for me; it's set in Haiti and is probably just a product of its time, but gave me an uncomfortable feeling of exoticism. It's an odd reversal of "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - both start with a young woman from the sticks who moves to a big city and finds success by being attractive to men, but where Holly is clever and self-aware, Ottilie seems to have the mental capacity of a child and relies on magic to help guide her decisions.
"A Diamond Guitar" was a solid story about friendship and betrayal, set in a prison. An old convict with a life sentence finds his life shaken up by a new, young convict with a flashy guitar.
"A Christmas Memory" was far and away my favorite of the short stories; it is, I understand, at least partially autobiographical for Truman Capote and has a much more real-world feel than any of the other stories in this collection. It's about a young boy whose best friend is his elderly but childlike cousin and the ways they entertain themselves in spite of being very poor in rural America of the 1930s....more
The Lowland is so beautifully written and yet manages to fall so completely flat. There's no emotion behind the characters; people make wholly selfishThe Lowland is so beautifully written and yet manages to fall so completely flat. There's no emotion behind the characters; people make wholly selfish or wholly selfless decisions without the reader really having any idea what would motivate these actions.
It's hard to say too much about the book without giving things away, since it follow the course of several generations of the Mitra family, and most of the poorly explained selfish and selfless decisions have to do with marriages and children - so even talking about characters from later in the book spoils events from earlier on. The action is divided between Calcutta in the first half and Rhode Island in the second half, and one of the things Jhumpa Lahiri does best in The Lowland is evoke places - I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Calcutta and Rhode Island felt like more compelling characters to me than any of the people in the novel did.
The writing is so strong that I didn't feel bored with the book at any point along the way, but I kept waiting to get a real look inside various characters' psyches and never did. The Lowland is good, but there are much better books out there to spend your time on....more
For probably three-quarters of this book, I was really excited. It's so weird, and it could be hard to follow, but I couldn't wait to see how the authFor probably three-quarters of this book, I was really excited. It's so weird, and it could be hard to follow, but I couldn't wait to see how the author was going to tie everything up together to make it all make sense at the end. Unfortunately, somewhere in that last quarter I started realizing we were running out of pages and the author wasn't actually steering us toward a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe I'd get more out of a re-read, but there are some books you read once and know you need to read them again to understand everything, and Long Division felt more like a question mark - I don't know whether a re-read would help or not.
In Long Division, a black teenager from Mississippi named City has an epic, YouTube-viral meltdown during a competition called "Can You Use That Word in a Sentence" (meant to be an unbiased alternative to a spelling bee, but in practice designed to ensure a black student would win). Shortly before the competition, he borrows a book called Long Division from his school principal. The book-in-the-book is also about a black teenager from Mississippi named City, but that City lives in 1985 and can time travel. Unsurprisingly, it can be a bit confusing as chapters switch back and forth from one City to the other, but Kiese Laymon gives a strong and distinct voice to each City so that the reader doesn't flounder for too long - even while keeping both protagonists similar enough that the reader's overall sense is that they are both the same person, just living in different eras. (Apparently the print edition of this book uses different fonts to differentiate 2013 City and 1985 City, but as far as I can tell the Kindle edition did not do that, so I had to rely on context clues alone to know which City I was reading about in each section.)
There is so much that Long Division does really well - I loved the strong characters, the glimpses of the same town across very different eras, the blurred lines between the two protagonists, the time-travel element - but I felt like the book ended abruptly without really coming to any kind of satisfactory explanation for all the strange things the reader had to accept over the course of the novel. I would love to read more from Laymon, and I might even go back and re-read Long Division to see if more things fall into place on a second reading, but overall I think Long Division promises a lot more than it delivers. ...more
I've been trying to devote more of my reading time to books from other countries and cultures, so I ended up picking up The Kite Runner when I saw itI've been trying to devote more of my reading time to books from other countries and cultures, so I ended up picking up The Kite Runner when I saw it on the shelf at the library because I hadn't read anything from or about Afghanistan before, and because it seems like one of those books everyone else had already read.
I can understand why people love this book - it's an engaging, emotional story with a feel-good yet not entirely pat ending. However, it's also very heavy-handed, relies far too much on unlikely coincidences, and is incredibly paternalistic in its treatment of servants/lower caste members. Hassan is the Afghani equivalent of the Magical Negro, with no concern or purpose in life except to make Amir happy. Amir is riddled with guilt for the way he has treated Hassan, but rather than ever doing anything active to make up for this guilt, he allows circumstance after circumstance to carry him along until he ends up with his redemption served to him on a platter.
I'm giving The Kite Runner an uneasy three stars because I was torn at the end between feeling satisfied (and wanting to give it four stars) and feeling manipulated (and wanting to take all those stars away). The book is absorbing, is heartwarming in the moment, and does give an interesting glimpse of (privileged) life in Kabul in the 70s, but it also relies on two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed metaphor to produce its emotional reaction in the reader, and the more you think about the characters and circumstances in the book, the more it becomes apparently how flimsy and egocentric the entire story is. I'll have to go looking for another book that can give me a more even-handed and respectful story about Afghanistan. ...more