on 31 December 2013
There's an anecdote in this novel about a journalist chasing a story who describes it as a tapeworm eating its own tail. That's how I felt about this book - the moment I finished it I wanted to start again and discover exactly where Pessl had taken me, as the whole novel has a filmic, dreamlike quality that disorientates you. I don't know if she wrote it with an eye on a future screenplay adaptation but it would make an amazing film. If you like mysteries and cinema, this is the book for you. The elusive Cordova is a cross between Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Lars von Trier. The relationships between the investigative trio of McGrath, Nora and Hopper are intriguing and well drawn. The extra content - excerpts from web pages and newspapers - is brilliant although I have heard people say it's impossible to read on a bog standard Kindle. I read it on an iPad and it was fine. I also downloaded the app that supposedly reveals even more content, but couldn't work out how this functioned without a hard copy book to scan with a mobile device camera. My one minor gripe is that the novel is quite long - it could have benefited from another edit that shaved maybe 25% off. However I was gripped from page one to the very end, and then bought Pessl's first novel on the basis of the standard of the writing in this one. As the devotees of Cordova would say: deadly, sovereign, perfect!
on 7 October 2014
Sometimes I discover books in the most random of ways. One of my personal challenges for 2014 is to read more chunksters – any book over 500 pages. And I picked Night Film randomly because I find crime-mysteries one of the fastest genres to read. What I didn’t know when I ordered my copy is that Night Film also uses multimedia to enrich the story.
Scott McGrath is a man who pretty much self-destructed via his own career – he’s an investigative journalist who took things one step too far in an attempt to expose one of the most reclusive men on the planet in Stanislas Cordova. And it’s only by accident that he ends up being pulled back into the Cordova story after the apparent suicide of Cordova’s daughter, Ashley.
Finding himself, rather unwillingly, with two young sidekicks, he sets out on a journey to find out the truth both about Ashley Cordova’s death, and Cordova himself. I found it rather difficult to get a handle on McGrath as a character – he’s obviously driven by the fact that Cordova turned his life upside down. He’s also a father, still in love with his ex wife, and rather lost in his own life. He’s a real example of how obsession can drive people to the brink of madness – and at times his obsession was actually rather overwhelming for me, too.
The irony, perhaps, of Night Film is that for huge chunks of this rather substantial book very little happens plot-wise. There are moments of heart-pounding addictive reading, but for me it was definitely the excitement of pulling apart the layers in slow-motion. There wasn’t really a point where I felt bored or that I didn’t want to keep reading, it was more when I’d finished that I realised for over 600 pages not a great deal had actually happened. That, however, is a testament to the storytelling and character development that Pessl invested in.
Night Film is most definitely a book I recommend reading in paper form. Although I don’t doubt the ebook version would work well, and I’ve heard that the audio version is also fantastic, it’s the visual additions of web pages, notes and pictures that really hooked me in initially, and kept my interest so high. There is also a (free) app available that contains even more multimedia – music and speech clips and picture montages that add yet another dimension to the story.
If you like crime mysteries, or books that are slightly quirky and different, I can highly recommend Night Film – it’s a bit of an investment time-wise but I found that time flew by when I was reading. Engaging, creepy and unusual, Night Film is definitely one of my 2014 favourites so far.
I absolutely loved Marisha Pessl's first novel, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" and pre-ordered this many months ago - in fact, before it even had a title. It has been a while before books, but I am delighted to say that I was certainly not disappointed in this excellent read. The story begins in New York with journalist Scott McGrath, having an odd encounter with a young woman while jogging in the early hours. Before long, Ashley Cordova, the twenty four year old daughter of Academy Award winnning director Stanislas Cordova, is found dead in a vacant warehouse. Why would such a wealthy, attractive and talented young woman commit suicide?
Scott McGrath is particularly interested in the story, as his own career came to an abrupt standstill after he attempted to write a story about her father, the reclusive horror director, Cordova himself. Cleverly, throughout this book, Pessl uses 'web pages' and news articles to justapose modern responses to news stories and total exposure, with the reclusiveness of Cordova himself, who hasn't appeared in public or given interviews since 1977. There is also a nod to her first novel, when the name of a film class about Cordova is entitled, "Special Topics in Cordova." After some pretty injudicious remarks on air, McGrath found himself faced with a lawsuit, disgraced, out of work and divorced, seeing his five year old daughter only at the odd weekend. Now, Ashley's death prompts him to reopen his investigation into Cordova, in the hope he could get his career, reputation and life back.
Along with Nora, the young coat check girl who was the last to see Ashley, and Hopper, who knew Ashley as a girl, he begins to track down anyone who may have spoken to Ashley before her death. His story will uncover many things and take you, the reader, from depraved secret parties to the possibility of black magic. For what caused Cordova to go into seclusion and what drove Ashley to kill herself? This is a roller coaster ride of a novel, wonderfully written (half literary fiction, half thriller/mystery) and with characters you will sympathise with and care about, plus the illusive world of Cordova himself. Pessl has created a man, a myth and a cleverly constructed world that you will believe in. Brilliant - for me, it is one of the best books of the year and, indeed, one of my favourite thrillers ever. I am pleased to see that Special Topics in Calamity Physics is being republished on kindle to coincide with this new release. When you have finished, and loved, this, I suggest you download her first novel. Pessl has come back even stronger than before and I certainly look forward to reading more from her - and simply hope there is not such a wait again, although this was certainly worth waiting for.
on 18 May 2016
This novel both unnerved and entertained me from start to finish - it kept me on the edge of my seat as I tried to make sense of conflicting accounts and evidence that the protagonist, disgraced reporter Scott McGrath, uncovered as he investigated the mysterious death of the daughter, Ashley, of the cult underground horror film director, Stanislas Cordova, the latter a magnified and distorted version of the legendary Alfred Hitchcock.
Strewn amidst this gripping tale were news articles, photographs, email correspondences, websites, and even authentic-looking Wikipedia articles that effectively blurred the lines between fact and fiction. (Reviewers have complained that the ebook version made it difficult to read the small print of these pictograms but the Kindle Paperwhite allows you to magnify the contents when you tap on it.)
Narrated in first person, Pessl delves deep into the inner psyche of Scott, as much as the story unfolds, and he is both a fallible as well as likeable broken man struggling to do something right in his life. At one point, when a supernatural take on the events seemed to be cleared up by a more realistic account, Scott ponders about his own shakened beliefs: "The explanations were like two sides of the same coin, and the side that I favored revealed something essential about the person I was". And what made this rather spectacular book was the way it made us question our own beliefs and preconceived notions of people and their nature.
Pessl has also shaped her characters well, which is quite a refreshing element in genre fiction which tends to focus more on plot. Scott, together with Nora, the 19-year-old coatcheck girl and fledgling actress wannabe, and Hopper, dark, brooding drug peddler and troubled layabout, make up quite a bizarre investigative team, and Pessl takes time to unveil each of these characters, that reveal very plausible motives for their individual interest in the case, without slowing down the plot in favour of lengthy sidetracks.
This is only Pessl's second novel, and quite a span of time had lapsed since her (in my opinion overrated) debut, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics", the novel that got the publishing world in tripping over its feet piling accolades on her ingenue status then. In my opinion, "Night Film" surpasses her debut by a pretty long shot, and I look forward to her next book with bated breath.
`Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not' so starts this very unusual literary thriller `Night Film'. At the heart of the novel are 2 characters, the cult horror director Stanislas Cordova who hasn't been seen in public since 1971 and his 24 year old daughter Ashley, whose death at the start of the novel sets the story in motion, did she commit suicide or was she murdered. Like `Rebecca', Cordova and his daughter haunt this novel, Ashley we know is dead but what about the man himself? The protagonist of `Night Film' is Scott McGrath, a journalist whose career was destroyed by Cordova. He becomes drawn back into this dark and very strange world.
Cordova directed horror films, said to be the most terrifying films ever made, people were never the same after watching them. It reached a stage where they no longer received certificates for general release and so they went underground with illicit showings organised by his fans `the Cordovites'.
The book starts with a very creepy prologue, signs of what is to come. Before the narrative starts there are several pages of web pages giving details about Cordova and Ashley. Throughout the book the author uses web pages and other documents to add depth and realism to the story including the `Blackboards', the hidden website. When I first flipped through the book I was expecting it to be a difficult read because of this but it wasn't, the documents drew me deeper into the lives of the characters and the narrative is compelling and fast moving.
I have to admit that the book did creep me out though, rather like watching a good horror film. The storyline suggests occult practices, are they going on or not. Also I often stopped to question `what' I was reading, is it the story of Scott McGrath investigating Ashley's death? Does McGrath really exist or is this a plot for another one of Cordova's `Night Films'. Cordova was known to merge realism with his fiction, so maybe McGrath is being unwittingly drawn into a film!
Overall it is a very strange experience, Marisha Pesl has written a fiction yet she merges it with realism, characters we all recognise from the film industry exist alongside her fictional creations. I could believe that Cordova existed and that this story happened, parts of it anyway. The novel is like Cordova's films, where does fiction end and reality begin?
As I have a physical proof copy of this book I decided to go for the Kindle version for the finished article. This was when I discovered about the enhanced features. You need to download the `Night Film Decoder' app (details given at the beginning of the book) onto your smart phone or tablet. Some of the images in the book have a bird symbol and if you scan over these images you will unlock extra video or audio features which enhance the experience of the novel. This works for e-book and the print copy. I will add that the images, documents, webpages, etc are easier to read in the print copy as you can't increase the font size like you can for the rest of the book.
`Everyone has a Cordova story' and I think that a lot of people are going to have a `Night Film' story. Definitely a book that will get people talking.
Since posting this review I have discovered that the size of the images can be increased to larger than screen size by touching and holding the centre of the image to bring up the magnifier, tapping that and then touching the screen with two fingers and moving them apart like you do on phones and tablets. Okay you can't see the whole image like you can in the print version but it does make the text readable.
on 12 June 2016
Finally I've finished it. It immersed me completely. It took me away from the world. This genre is not my usual choice but I truly enjoyed it. It creeped me out at some points, I liked the idea of investigating along the main protagonist. The whole mystery was really dark and I had to stop reading few times to regain the distance to this fictional book. The dark side, black magic, death, mystery mansion- The Peak- it all match together at the end. However when you think you have it all pieced together again you are dropped into the deep not sure anymore what is true and what is not. Quick read for me but it had me completely withdrawn from my life. Thanks God it was a long weekend.
on 12 September 2014
Impossible on a Kindle. Very frustrating as you can't see the newspaper articles. I'n posting this on the Kindle review page as I never actually read the whole book. Just to warn kindle readers,
on 30 April 2016
This is excellent. I read some of the reviews and what made me purchase it was one that said it wasn't as good as "Gone Girl". I had found that book so obvious it was a struggle to bother to care what happened. This on the other hand was enthralling. It was extremely well written with nice references to real films and actors. The interactive parts on the ap were not available for me but the articles and pictures etc. were easy to enlarge to read and were a nice touch. Not sure why some reviews says it was too long ..... hardly "War and Peace". It was a perfect length to imerse yourself in the world of Cordova and the elusive personality of Ashley. Excellent ending with the book living on after finishing whilst you question and interpret what indeed was reality. Will read again. Don't expect a mainstream read. Not something Richard and Judy would recommend! One of the best books I've bought on Amazon.
The adjectives above could apply equally to the cultish figure this book is about as it could to Marisha Pessl's stylish, risk-taking, occasionally over-blown book.
Just as she was on the edge of losing me in its last hundred pages, through becoming a bit too fantastical for belief, she did yet another, effortless, audacious, utterly credible, didn't-see-it-coming volte-face, tipping her book into a direction I hadn't seen would be there, and leaving me shaking my head in admiring amazement.
Enough with the adjectives; just what is it about, and why is it so fabulously original and worth reading.?
The narrator and almost central character, Scott McGrath is an almost washed-up middle-aged man, an investigative journalist with an obsession. His obsession is the reclusive, dark cult, noirish auteur film-maker Stanislas Cordova, whose queasily shocking films, full of investigations into the dark side of the human soul, have become cult classics, banned from mainstream showing. An underground legion of Cordova fans, world-wide, arrange hidden showings of his movies (he has not made a new one for years) using social media and deeply hidden, protected-from-prying-eyes websites which you must know about to even find, let alone get access to.
Rumours escalated about Cordova over the years. He has always eschewed publicity, whilst his films gained notoriety through dark hints and rumours. Some of these are that his films, dealing with death, sex, violence, hidden and shameful desires, were `for real'. Many of the actors and crew who worked on Cordova films appeared to have had strange epiphanies as a result of the experience, and have vanished off the radar. Those that are still around refuse to talk about Cordova and the film they worked on.
Viewers of these films also report shocking, changing experiences and well-mangled minds as a result - hence, the banning of those films.
McGrath did attempt to instigate an expose of Cordoba some years previously. The result of this was professional and personal suicide. He became unemployable after an emotional anti-Cordova outburst on TV. His marriage broke apart under the strain of his obsession to expose Cordova. He is resentfully ticking over, convinced he was set-up to fail by Cordova himself.
Then news breaks (this is start of the novel, not a spoiler!) that Cordova's daughter Ashley, an incredibly gifted classical pianist, has been found dead at the bottom of an elevator shaft in an abandoned New York warehouse. The verdict is suicide.
McGrath is not convinced, and begins another Cordova investigation, picking up a couple of unlikely, shadowy sidekicks along the way, a small-time drug dealer and a restaurant coat-check girl, actress wannabe.
What makes this different from any other well-written, imaginative thriller-cum-crime investigation, are the audacious games Pessl plays with her medium, adding to reader enjoyment and justifiable, rather than authorial self-indulgent, mind-mangling reader experience.
These include fanzine web-pages, photographs, police reports, medical records, and pages from the New York Times, including its on-line pages, reporting Ashley Cordova's death, and an early interview with Cordova from Rolling Stone, before he completely eschewed such practices.
The interactive, this-is-reality experience also steps beyond the book's pages as, in both Kindle and real book, some pages contain a particularly Cordova-apt symbol. Readers possessing an Apple or Android device can download a free Night Film app, and then, taking a photo of the pages containing the symbol will launch webpages so that the journey continues on-line
I am sulking, badly, as a woefully discriminated against Blackberry user. Random House, the publishers, have no plans to launch the Night Film app for blackberry, and my Windows PC and lappy, not to mention the blackberry, uncompromisingly tell me that the app is not compatible with my devices.
I feel like Scott McGrath, before he found a way into the Cordova secret fan website.
Pessl has been compared to many other writers, in terms of her subject matter and style - predictably, these include the Steig Larsson Millenium trilogy (Pessl a more imaginative literary writer) and Donna Tartt's Secret History - Tartt is cooler, more cerebral, more intellectual, more introverted, reflective and disciplined in her writing and imagination I think.
There is something so very lush and unrestrained about Pessl - this is not a `magic realism' novel, but she has the rich, fantastical imagination of particularly the South American Magic Realists.
However, the comparison which most hit home, in literary fashion - though not till the final 50 or so pages of the novel, was that classic, early `mess with the head of the narrator AND the reader' book by John Fowles, The Magus (Vintage Classics). An example of so-called `god-game' writing. Pessl engages with a variety of this, and I have some similar `the reader has been rearranged' sensations.
However, it is the world of film she seems mostly to inhabit, a wonderful amalgam of Hitchcock, the Blair Witch Project, The Omen, David Lynch, Tarantino, not to mention the suspicion that Polanski and Kubrick might have been partial inspirers of Cordova.
I recommend this highly. I have now bought her first book, and fully intend a re-re-re read of The Magus!
on 30 August 2013
NIGHT FILM is a book that is difficult to categorize since it vacillates between mystery, urban fantasy and thriller with side trips into black magic and occult practices. Most of the story is told from the perspective of former investigative reporter Scott McGrath and there are certain instances that make the reader question the reliability or veracity of Mr. McGraths narrative. In fact, each of the characters populating the pages of this novel, from the elusive Director Stanislas Cordova and his suicidal daughter Ashley to Nora and Hopper the two "assistants' who lend McGrath a hand as he investigates the untimely death of Cordova's daughter, have some sort of obsessive personal agenda or objective. From the protagonist to the most seemingly insignificant member of this cast of characters, everyone has a history with Cordova and most of that history is malignant in nature.
Presented to the reader in a most unusual manner this is a novel with an almost undercover expose/biography feel to it. Complete with pseudo newspaper clippings, photographs, police and medical reports, as well as excerpts from various on-line blogs and invitation only websites whose primary goals are to satisfy the inquisitive demands of his cult following by examining the life and artistic achievements of the mysterious and reclusive Cordova, Marisha Pessl manages to create an atmosphere that draws the reader into her coherent, complex and detailed tale. Her inclusion of lengthy descriptions of the plotlines of each Cordova movie as well as the back-stories and fates of those who starred in each vehicle, are items that add to the perception that these are real people and you are an active participant in Scott McGrath's investigation into his fantastical, hidden world.
Other reviewers have covered the actual plot and chain of events in some detail so I will not belabor those points. All I will add is this - Think of NIGHT FILM as an enigmatic story about inherited guilt, fate, white & black magic, obsession, malevolence and compulsion with folks like Richard Matheson, Clive Barker, H. P. Lovecraft, Steven King and Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino and George Romero each contributing a piece to the puzzle and you will have a pretty good idea of what Ms. Pessl's has managed to capture in her novel.
P. S. In parting, I do have a question that has been preying incessantly on my ever practical mind. This may be an insignificant detail but it begs an answer - (1) Scott McGrath seemed to lack any visible means of support so what exactly was the genesis of the money he so liberally spent throughout the novel?