• Jack Wells

Book Review - Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Updated: May 9, 2018

Not quite a horror novel, but heavily influenced by the horror movie director the protagonist is hunting for.

After finishing this novel, I've come to the startling, and somewhat disheartening, conclusion that all of my friends (real or digital) like better books and authors than I do. I mean, sure, I've read most of the classics. Many of them were required reading in High School AP English (though I loved the books and was glad to have read them), but more than a few of them were deliberate selections on my part. But somewhere along the way I have either deliberately passed by some truly great reads (which is bad), or they've completely slipped under my radar and sped off unseen into the night (which is worse).

Am I saying that Night Film is a classic? That it should be required reading in classrooms all over the country? No, not at all. That's not the kind of book it is. But for me, it WAS required reading. It's not for everyone, of course, but it is MY kind of book. I found it engrossing, thoroughly original, disturbing, well written, clever, and cunningly plotted. And here's the point of all this rambling...I would likely NEVER have read it, or even HEARD about it, had it not been for a Goodreads friend recommending it to me. So yeah, good thing my friends have better taste than I do!

After finishing the novel, and looking at other reviews, I'm honestly not surprised by what I found. This isn't a "meh" kind of book. Most people don't have a middling opinion of it. You either love it or hate it. I'm not going be so brazen to say you either "get it or you don't". There's plenty of things that I totally "get", and still don't like. And vice versa. This is likely true for most people. I think it breaks down better like this; Night Film is either your kind of book, or it isn't. And it's funny, because there's some criticisms against this book that I totally understand or maybe even agree with. But none of those criticisms ruined the book for me. Is there an excessive use of italics? Yup, sure are. Is the writing often overly prosaic and figurative? Yep. Are some of the finer plot points spelled out in more detail than might be necessary? Sure enough.

But I could get past all that. For me, it's the story that matters, not necessarily the presentation. And this is a story not to be missed. Marisha Pessl obviously labored over this tale, and the way it unfolds, with a grim determination. The fact she took seven years between her first novel and this one shows that she wasn't willing to churn out something half-assed. The mystery is uncovered at a perfect pace, layer upon layer peeling back, to finally reveal...well, whatever you want it to reveal. The fact that Night Film has an ambiguous ending shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who reads it. The Cordova films, which feature so heavily in the tale that they are almost characters unto themselves, all have ambiguous endings, leaving the fans to speculate on how the stories concluded. Sometimes I need my story to wrap up with all threads accounted for and a detailed summary of "what happened to whom", and sometimes I don't. In this case, I think the ambiguity adds to the appeal, as uncertainty is one of the main themes of the story itself.

For the characters, I found them to be completely serviceable. Scott McGrath, as our single POV character, isn't the most likeable guy, but he's determined enough and seasoned enough to know how the game is played. Except when he isn't...which is why it's good that he has Nora and Hopper around. I like the fact that Scott is SO assured in his view of the world and how things work, until one or both of his partners proves him oh so completely wrong. Speaking of those partners, Nora is the more fleshed out of the two, leaving Hopper as the weakest link in the triumvirate. Is it a stretch that THESE three people would be working together? Yeah, it kinda is. But that's how fiction stories work, so I left my disbelief hanging at the door and entered freely.

Some people might find the descriptive sections pretentious or snooty, but I found them utterly spot on. Even with all the disturbing elements and the slowly ratcheting tension, there were some passages that made me truly laugh. Again, it all just works for me.

For the gripes, there's only a few. The multimedia portions of the book, while informative, felt unnecessary. The book could stand just as well without them. Also, as I said to friend, this book has more endings than the movie version of "The Return of the King". Everytime I thought I'd reached the final chapter, there would be another one, picking up a day or a week later in the tale. But, once I got to the REAL ending, it was pretty obvious.

So, yeah, this is a hard book to recommend. It won't be for everyone, and I'm not sure you'd even know until you started reading it. But for me, it was just what I needed. Furthermore, it's not just something I read...I very nearly "wore" this book for a while. When I wasn't reading it, I was thinking about it, wondering what was coming next, wondering if I'd missed something in what I'd just read. Wondering if I was seeing all there was to see. Few books stay with me this completely when I'm not actively reading them, but Night Film was like my own personal specter, haunting me at random times and places, refusing to fade into the shadows. If this sounds like your kind of fiction, then by all means give it a chance!

5 out of 5 deftly directed stars!

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