Monday, January 27, 2014

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Spoiler-free summary:
Scott McGrath, a down-on-his-luck investigative reporter living in New York City, has something of an obsession. Years ago, McGrath became entranced by the reclusive horror director Stanislas Cordova. Shown in abandoned subway tunnels and catacombs at viewings organized by a cult-like group of fans, his films push viewers to their psychological limits. Cordova has been hidden for 30 years, but bits of his bizarre life keep floating up to the surface, reminding McGrath and the faithful "Cordovites" that the mysterious mastermind is still out there, hoarding his secrets. When the director's stunningly beautiful daughter dies, McGrath's passion reignites and now he is determined to find Cordova and rebuild his career and life at any cost. McGrath's journey to find Cordova and to learn about his daughter's final days is a mystical, but horrific tale.


I was really, really excited for this book. In fact, it was one of my "most anticipated books of 2013" (I just decided this, there is no list, unfortunately). How can you not be excited for this book? There's a reclusive horror director with a horrible secret, a free app that you can download and then use to interact with the pages in the book (holy cow), and everyone was hailing this as a literary success (as in, y'know, the writing was actually good). I heard it being compared to Gone Girl (which I enjoyed) and House of Leaves (which I loved), so it sounded like a done deal.

Unfortunately, I found this book just so-so.

The premise is interesting and I genuinely did want to see where this was all going, but I feel that it was executed poorly. I know Pessl can write better than this. I know she can. The plot felt watered down, the writing was iffy, the characters were mostly boring and unbelievable. I felt let down. I think that when you're dealing with a plot that has the potential to be incredibly cerebral and magical, your writing can't be anything less than literary. Instead, the writing felt overly-simplified. I don't know why, but it did. I get that this is supposed to be a thriller, not the next great American novel, but, thrillers can be literary, too. The plot just seemed wasted...

Furthermore, there was a weird abundance of italics and I couldn't figure out why. Is there a secret code? I sure hope so, because they were really, really bad. I couldn't figure out Pessl's reasoning behind them.

I had to make some major leaps of faith in order to take the plot seriously. Characters magically seem to know things they have no right knowing, motives are muddled and unexplained, Pessl refuses to let any doors close and does weird, nonsensical things to make sure that all possibilities are still possibilities on the last page. Much was sacrificed in the name of mystery and sadly, it just didn't do it for me.

And to top it all off, I couldn't get the app to work. This is probably my fault, though. I just purchased a new phone and I seem to be having some internet issues and I just couldn't get the damn thing to install. That being said, though, I've downloaded 10+ other apps, and they seem to be doing just fine.

Despite all that, I did have fun reading this book. The pages were silky smooth (seriously, this is some nice paper), the fake Times articles and forum posts were neat, and the app probably would have been cool, if I could get it to work. This wasn't an earth-shattering read, and, honestly, wasn't particularly memorable in any way, but it passed the time, I guess.

And Pessl is hot:

Buy Night Film today in hardcover from Random House.

Images: Random House

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