Book Review

Book Review: Night Film

Night Film
By Marisha Pessl

My Edition:
Hardcover, 599 pages
2013, Random House
ISBN: 9781400067886

From the book jacket: On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova – a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. 

What I liked:
First, this book is lovely to look at. I enjoy the dark simplicity of the cover, and the pages are super smooth. Then there are special pages that look like websites, police reports, magazine articles:

There’s also a free app that you can download for extra content, so some of the pictures have a little bird logo. When you scan that logo, you get additional information that’s usually related to that part of the story. The app isn’t essential, you really don’t miss out on any important details if you can’t use it – I found it’s mostly audio and some of it was a little dull, but there was one segment at the end of the book that showed several diary entries from a star in one of Cordova’s movies and that was well worth reading. A note to future app users: I was stupidly just scanning the little bird logo at first and nothing happened. You have to scan most of the actual image, like the paper clipping below, along with the bird logo. 

Now, on to the content. Night Film is not your average crime novel – the darkness from Cordova’s films seeps into his life and lends him a supernatural air. McGrath is convinced, based on Cordova’s work, that there’s something going on in the Cordova household that lead to or even caused Ashley’s death and begs the question, “How close was an artist’s real life to his work?”

Scott is a solid character – he wouldn’t make a top ten list of mine or anything, but I enjoyed his cynicism and occasional wit. For example, his musings on Apple-based technology made me chuckle:

“With the iPiano, anyone can be an iMozart. Then, you could compose your own iRequiem for your own iFuneral attended by millions of your iFriends who iLoved you.”

Nora and Hopper, Scott’s sidekicks are forgettable. Actually, Nora was very annoying to me – I think that was intentional at first, then she was supposed to grow on me, but that didn’t happen. However, their relationships with Scott add depth to his character, so I really didn’t mind that they weren’t as developed as him.

Pessl kept me guessing until the end and I loved the horror elements. Like Scott, I was trying to figure out what was real and what wasn’t, piecing together the strange elements of Cordova’s history. I will say that this book took me longer to get through than I thought – it’s not a bad thing at all, but I would read for hours and feel like I’d made no actual progress. I wouldn’t say this is a book you could burn through in a day at the beach or something.

What I didn’t like:
The ending left me a little unsatisfied. I think I understand why Pessl ended the book the way she did, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. This didn’t ruin the book though, just left me scratching my head.


Night Film is creepy and engaging and much like Scott, left me wondering “Could something be real when all evidence of it was gone?” I look forward to reading Pessl’s other book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

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