Night FIlm by Marisha Pessl: Review

I don't normally review books by themselves, but given the fact that I've waited for Night Film by Marisha Pessl for so very, very long I feel one is warranted. Ashely Cordova, daughter of the the demented film director Stanislas Cordova, kills herself for apparently no reason. Black-listed journalist Scott McGrath decides to investigate, taking on two assistants along the way. Here's is the review that I just submitted on Amazon (I know, boo hiss, we hate big business...): 

 I'm usually a pretty patient person when it comes to authors' releases- I know that in order to write something of quality time is necessary. After reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics shortly after it came out in 2006 a follow up by Marisha Pessl was immediately on my wish list. So, I waited. And waited some more. And then for a few more years. Two or so years ago rumblings about Night Film started and I got excited- only to have to wait even more. And now, the moment has arrived and I completely understand the delay. This is not an ordinary book.

Ten Reasons to Read Night Film:

1. The verb "crafted" is probably overused a bit when it comes to writing, but there is no better one to use in regards to Night Film. The world Pessl created was obviously labored over- given the genre, mystery, everything had to add up in the end. And when there's nearly 600 pages of people, places, and clues there's a lot of i dotting and t crossing to do.

2. The multimedia aspect of the book makes it more hands-on and, to put it simply, interesting. Pessl includes screen shots from websites, pictures, notes, and transcripts in order to provide the reader with a more authentic experience. Also, allowing us an actual model for Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a demented film director who kills herself, is necessary- we have to understand her appeal.

3. She manages to sneak in a little bit of literature, ala Special Topics, with her references to TS Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."

4. The setting drags you all over New York City from Park Avenue to China Town, out to the Adirondacks and even to Chile, eventually. Her attention to detail is critical, both in the sense that it makes the reader more hyper-sensitive for clues, but also serves to enrich her quality of writing.

5. Speaking of quality of writing, this really is a literary mystery. I love the idea of mysteries, but it's hard to find one that's well-written. Pessl was up for the challenge and delivered. It's not high-brow in the sense that it's pretentious, just solidly written. It stays true to the nuances of the genre- you can almost hear the main character, Scott McGrath doing voice overs, the dialogue at times sounds a bit hard-boiled, and the clues keep popping up. At first these things bothered me some, until I realized they were done intentionally- it's not a mysterious literary novel, it's a literary mystery novel.

6. I found the black magic/occult references incredibly interesting and well-researched. I'm definitely not into the paranormal or even fantasy, but Pessl was able to integrate these elements into the novel well by metering the characters' responses to the evidence they found.

7. The underground, secret world of Stanislas Cordova's film will both horrify and intrigue readers. Cordova's films are so psychologically disturbing that they are banned from theaters, resulting in bootlegged copies that are shown at secret places throughout the world. Cordovites, his diehard fans, have a secret website on the anonymous internet (I didn't even know that existed) and McGrath must figure out how to break in to aid his investigation.

8. The characters are plentiful and uniquely developed. Scott McGrath takes on two assistants of sorts, Hopper and Nora (who ends up living with him), both of which have their own depressing back stories. Throughout their investigation we meet people that are trying to assist and deter, all strategically placed by Pessl in order to lead McGrath to answers.

9. I don't normally get caught up in suspense when I read, but I was on the edge of my seat for the last 250 pages. There was even one time that I was so nervous for McGrath that I had to put the book down and do something else for a few minutes. Pessl takes characters you care about and puts them in such vivid, dangerous situations that you can't help having an almost visceral reaction on their behalf.

10. The length isn't a problem. I know there are many people that balk at long books, but this should be one they make exceptions for. It's nearly 600 pages, but the story is paced so well that there really isn't anything that could be trimmed out or sped up.

And Three Things to Stop the Gushing for a Second:

1. There is a definite over-use of italics. As a reader I know when sarcasm or emphasis is being used- I don't need these obvious clues.

2. There aren't a lot of dead ends (and when there are something else quickly shows up), which makes it slightly less realistic.

3. The last ten pages added a new twist that either wasn't necessary or needed to be expanded. It just seemed a little too rushed for me (I was more than fine with the actually ending, though).

On Sale August 20, 20123. I can't recommend it enough!  


  1. Thanks for the thoughtful review. I was lukewarm about Special Topics (especially since it was gushingly recommended), but it sounds like Night Film may be a better read and I do love J. Alfred Prufrock.

  2. I can't wait to read it based on your review. I feel the same way about mysteries. They always sound so great in theory but too often, 5 pages in and I am wondering if it was written by a pre-teen.

  3. UGGGGGHHH how much can I bribe you to have you send me your advance reader's copy so I can read this book before August?! This book sounds amazing and I am so excited about it now after reading your review. I can't wait. And I love that it is 600 pages--I trust Marisha Pessl with 600 pages. Not every author can hold your interest that long, but I know she can.