Nathan Rostron's Reviews > Night Film

Night Film by Marisha Pessl
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Ultimately, even though most of my reading experience of Marisha Pessl's Night Film was colored by aggravation and impatience, the book wins: I was compelled to finish it, all 600 pages. I'm still not entirely sure why I did--and why I'm still thinking about it, peeved, weeks later. But I'll try and map the hate and fascination--not unlike the hate and fascination the book's narrator, aha!, feels for the enigmatic horror-film director with whom he's unhealthily obsessed--that drove me onward.

1) The central aggravator of the book is a typographical one, which makes it doubly annoying, staring you in the face sometimes several times a paragraph, because it could have been so easily avoided, had the editor been braver or the author less blinkered: Yes, I speak of italics for emphasis. Beyond the fact that the italics "tilt" ordinary language that you increasingly realize is actually pretty banal, there is the fact that they're used by a narrator who's meant to be an investigative journalist. Try and name one investigative journalist with any credibility who uses italics for emphasis ever, let alone throughout a written piece. Triple, quadruple aggravation. It made me wish it was all a dream or that someone had warned me: Don't open that door.

2) There are three basic elements to the book: A) Stanislas Cordova, the aforementioned mysterious horror-film director who's created a mythic and mysterious cult of personality around himself, B) Ashley Cordova, the director's beautiful, talented and disturbed 24-year-old daughter, who is found dead, apparently flung from a building, in the book's opening pages and C) Scott McGrath, a disgraced investigative journalist who has a big bone to pick with the director, and who becomes convinced that in solving the mystery of Ashley's death he will dig up incriminating dirt on Cordova. McGrath and his two somewhat slapstick sidekicks are good, compelling, sympathetic figures. Alas, Ashley is so removed from the story by her legend and her death that she never really comes alive as a character, so to speak. But the real dead heart of the novel is Cordova himself. We hear lots and lots about how fascinated and disturbed by him everybody is, especially McGrath, but he is never evoked in a way that fascinates or disturbs. He's as sexy as an overwrought description of a sex scene, as scary as an academic dissertation on The Shining. A lot of sturm and drang and not much convincing dread and horror.

3) And yet! The successful part of the book is all pacing and structure: Pessl uses short chapters, in pretty much each of which a clue is solved and another clue is placed, and it keeps you chugging right along, with enough moody atmospherics and spooky black magic stuff to keep it weird and intriguing. I was much less interested in Ashley and the great director than I was in the three searchers who always seem to be on the verge of uncovering something big. And spurred along by Pessl's reputation as a literary punk-rock badass, as a reader I kept thinking that I was on the verge of uncovering the book's hidden genius, saved for a wicked "aha" at the end. Alas, under the magician's final screen there's nothing there at all.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
September 19, 2013 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Gloria (new)

Gloria Great review, Nathan. ;)
Seriously, I've missed your reviews on here!


Erika The italics! Agh! Awful.


Michelle Richter I too felt aggravated and impatient yet finished it, and don't know why. The italics were horrible, and I don't know why the editor indulged Pessl's use of them.


message 4: by Emily (new)

Emily Carpenter great review. thanks


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