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Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film (edition 2013)

by Marisha Pessl (Author)

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2,8982744,196 (3.75)142
When the daughter of a cult horror film director is found dead in an abandoned Manhattan warehouse, investigative journalist Scott McGrath, disbelieving the official suicide ruling, probes into the strange circumstances of the young woman's death.
Title:Night Film
Authors:Marisha Pessl (Author)
Info:Hutchinson (2013), Edition: First Edition First Printing, 624 pages
Collections:Your library

Work Information

Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Showing 1-5 of 268 (next | show all)
Journalist Scott McGrath is obsessed with Stanislas Cordova, a reclusive filmmaker whose frightening night films are eventually banned, driving his fans to host underground showings of new films and—in some cases—copycat crimes. But McGrath goes too far when he states on live television that Cordova is a predator in the same league as Charles Manson, and calls for the filmmaker’s termination. One lawsuit, a lost career, and a divorce later, McGrath is adrift, his wallet much lighter but his fixation still intact.

Years later, a shocking text from an old friend informs McGrath that Cordova’s daughter Ashley was found dead, an apparent suicide. McGrath can’t help himself. He begins to snoop once more through the tangled underworld that is Cordova’s life. As rumors lead to clues and clues to witnesses, the filmmaker’s darkness begins to overtake the journalist’s life until McGrath begins to think Cordova may not be satisfied taking just McGrath’s money. This time, McGrath may lose his life.

I love a good mystery, and Marisha Pessl’s Night Film delivered. The more I read, the deeper I was drawn in, down twists and dark alleys of the many-layered underworld of Cordova until it got difficult to put the book down at all. Every time McGrath thought he had it figured out, some new twist would trip him up or some new evidence, clue, or rumor would come to light. Each witness tells the truth as they saw it, but as McGrath knows all too well, Cordova is really good at obscuring his tracks with misleading information. McGrath doesn’t know who to believe. All he can do is keep following the trail, and hope to find out what really happened to Ashley, and what part Cordova played in her tragic demise.

As an added element of realism, the book is sprinkled with graphics of news clippings, magazine articles, photos of victims or witnesses, pages from police files, ads torn from newspapers, etc. Each and every one added hints and clues, all of which lent plausibility to the story. The overall effect made me feel like I was truly part of a real-life investigation.

Much of the story takes place in New York City. While I’m not a resident of NYC, and haven’t even spent a great deal of time there, I liked the way Pessl peppers the story with tidbits of that city. Street names, and scenes in Central Park complete with landmarks, cab rides and traffic, coffee shops and late-night parties. All the things that make that city unique bring a real-life feel to the setting. Readers who happen to live in the city will no doubt appreciate the familiarity that appears on almost every page.

There is a hint of the occult in this book, though the story itself is not a supernatural tale. Some of the clues McGrath follows suggest black magic and witchcraft was used by Cordova or others in his world, and in light of this I must credit Pessl for her balanced representation. She aptly depicts an occult shop in several scenes, as well as the type of assistance one might look for therein. The character of Cleo, a magical practitioner in the shop, is shown in a positive light. Even the dark magic specialist Cleo calls on for help unraveling a potential curse is portrayed as a beneficial character. Pessl deserves kudos for showing this fairly realistic view of those characters without making them stereotypically antagonistic or evil.

McGrath himself is a great character, flawed, yet relatable. Pessl gives us a good look inside his mind. His innate inquisitiveness, emotions regarding his failed marriage, his obsession with Cordova, and his desire to maintain a relationship with his young daughter all conspire to drive his decisions, sometimes in the wrong direction. Supporting characters Nora and Hopper add their own flavors to the mix. Nora’s innocence contrasts well with McGrath’s cynicism. Hopper’s bitterness plays well against McGrath’s refusal to draw conclusions from incomplete data.

One thing I really liked about this story is the constant shadowy presence of Cordova threaded through every moment, every scene, every thought in McGrath’s head. He, as a character, is the heart of the mystery that is Night Film. The more McGrath uncovered, the more enigmatic the filmmaker grew until I began to expect someone ten feet tall and bulletproof. When he finally appeared on the page—

Well. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll withhold that comment. Suffice to say I was not disappointed. Pessl kept my attention through the very last page, and left me wanting more. If you enjoy a good mystery, I highly recommend Night Film. ( )
  DremaDeoraich | Dec 27, 2022 |
Did this mostly on audiobook, although I did order the print version from the library once I realized there was so much to look at inside the book-screen shots of the protagonist's internet searches, notes, photographs, copies of police reports and medical records, and other research materials he uses in his investigation. It was a neat way to tell this particular story, and I read there's also an app out there to provide an interactive element.

Her descriptive style impressed me from the start. In the opening scene, the protagonist is jogging in New York City in the middle of the night and keeps catching glimpses of a woman.
Yet the longer I ran, the path unspooling like an underpass to some dark new dimension in front of me, the more I found the encounter unfinished, a song that had cut out on an expectant note, a film projector sputtering to a halt before the pivotal chase scene, the screen going white.
There are lots of gems in the book, but one of my favorites didn't even have anything to do with the plot-just a beautifully written segment as the narrator watches a woman he just interviewed leave a dog park with her aging companion. I loved how the author perfectly conveyed the relationship of the woman and her dog as the author watched them walk away together.

The story sucked me in and pulled me along its twists and turns, and even when I thought I'd figured it out, I still enjoyed it. It's a story told with stories, told by the people the journalist Scott McGrath is interviewing to get to the bottom of the death he's investigating. While this was largely intriguing, by the end of the book, I was growing weary of yet another character launching into another story, providing a piece of the puzzle that may or may not be true. Many of these characters had an unsettling level of adoration for Cordova (the filmmaker McGrath suspects of wrongdoing). By the end, it seemed McGrath had joined the ranks of the awestruck, and I didn't really like that.

The author thoroughly established, through interviews from actors, quotes from magazines, movie reviews and fan sites, Cordova's film style. This eventually eases the reader into the realization that Scott is living a Cordova film , and that's one of the things I liked most about this book. This is the point when I started thinking the whole thing was an elaborate set-up of Scott, and all the people willing to help him in his investigation, including Nora and Hopper, were plants. With an ending that was as ambiguous as a Cordova film ending, I still don't know if there was any truth to that theory, but I don't think Hopper and Nora played him false, and that would have really bothered me. While the ambiguous ending made sense structurally, I still felt let down, and the enchantment faded a bit for me. To be fair, I'm not sure how this could have ended in a way I would have been completely happy with after the wild ride of the book.

Jake Weber did a nice job with Scott (the narrator) and the other main characters' voices. He seemed a little shaky on accents, but he didn't have to do them very often. It works as an audiobook, for the most part, but I do recommend having the print version at home so you can page through all the neat visuals. And the app sounds really cool.

A 4-star book with 5-star writing. ( )
  Harks | Dec 17, 2022 |
Update 9/6/19. This isn't just a story you read, but one you live, which is maybe the rarest kind of book. As dark and memorable as Cordova himself. I rarely re-read anything, though I bet this isn't my last trip through Night Film. Someday, probably a year or so from now, I'll go back for a third.

Original review:

I am stumped for a way to write this review spoiler-free while describing what’s so amazing about this book, so I won’t. Be forewarned there are a few vague details best left uncovered while reading.

I finished NIGHT FILM late last week and have been trying to decide how exactly I feel about this book as a whole—the prose, the length, the addition of multi-media—since. On the one hand, I’m thinking this is a solid four-and-a-half star read. Not quite paced to perfection. A couple of times (particularly during Scott’s exploration of Cordova’s Adirondack estate) I felt the prose was too slow, a tad overwritten, but THEN (and this happens several times during this book) the plot twists and I’m drawn right back in to what feels maybe like the best thing I’ve ever read. Ten stars! I will be thinking on this one for some time to come.

Why? For one, I love the characters.

Disgraced journalist and quasi-failure dad Scott McGrath is a man who has lost everything after taking a public jab at Cordova. He is kind of a wreck, and had he not gotten a hand from Nora and Hopper I’m not sure he’d have ended up so far down the rabbit hole. Still, motives of self-preservation aside, his dedication to finding out what exactly happened to Ashley Cordova is admirable.

Nora is nuanced and just this side of crazy in her transvestite’s wardrobe with her archaic bird, but she is so compellingly sweet that I rooted for her and Scott to make a go of things the entire time. Septimus added color to her (and what she did to get that bird back from a birdnapper was both terrible and proof of how far Nora would go to protect what she loves).

Hopper turned out to be a loveable not-so-screw-up, and his and Ashley’s background is nothing short of star crossed. In a story about heartbreak, theirs might be the saddest plotline of all.

Cordova is pure legend. This reclusive horror film maker’s story is as compelling as it is dark, disturbing, and beautiful. The head of a family who lives life on its own terms, consistently on the edge, I want to be Cordova. The love he had for his daughter, and the mystery about “what exactly he does to the children,” is shattering. Had he really believed he could trade one soul for another? The black magic component of NIGHT FILM had me utterly spellbound.

In a book with so large a cast, never once was I confused about who was whom. Each player, large and small, has a past and present of their own with the victim—the brilliant, engaging, talented, and mysterious Ashley. Like father like daughter. I wanted so badly to believe in the supernatural story she spun versus what may (or may not have been) the truth about what happened to her. The Devil’s Bridge? Brilliant.

In the end, much comes together but so much is left to interpretation. There’s a clear sense that the logical one isn’t the only answer. One of the best books I’ve read, I can’t, in good conscience, rate NIGHT FILM four stars for a couple plot drags in so long a book. Five stars. Highly recommended for folks who want to read something that makes them feel part of the investigation. ( )
  bfrisch | Dec 9, 2022 |
I’m not a re-reader by nature. I can count on one hand the number of books I’ve read more than once, but “Night Film” takes the crown for most times read at three. Ever hear a song for the first time that is just catchy? You have no idea what it is about because you don’t know the lyrics and you like it anyway? This book is like that. Each time I read it, it gets better, and I finally understand and appreciate the scenes at The Peak.

First time through, those chapters felt like a slow and unwelcome intrusion into unraveling the truth behind Ashley’s death. This time, it is within those chapters that we see Scott McGrath become a true believer. Maybe it’s the Mad Seeds or a side effect of the embedded thorn… or maybe he’s been inside a Cordova narrative all along.

The scenes are critical to Scott’s conversion from skeptic and make the reality that much starker when Inez Gallo reveals the “truth” behind Mathilde. Better to chase the mermaids, I think.

“Night Film” is a genius tale, expertly told and with characters whose motivations stay with you. The Cordovas live on the razor’s edge and isn’t life meant to be experienced? This one goes down as my favorite book of all time. Inspired, brilliant, and highly recommended. ( )
  bfrisch | Dec 9, 2022 |
Fun for lovers of random italics. Everyone else: nothing to see here. ( )
  JimDR | Dec 7, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 268 (next | show all)
This book is like a big fun-house — Pessl lets you decide if you want to believe its magic. I probably won't remember all that much of the plot a few weeks from now and the characters are basically vehicles for an overarching idea more than anything else. But Marisha Pessl had an extremely cool and intricate idea for a novel, and ultimately it works. I was totally happy to sit in the darkness until the very last page, and I didn't move a muscle until the lights came up.
added by zhejw | editNPR, Meg Wolitzer (Aug 22, 2013)
By the time you’ve fallen halfway down this rabbit hole, the plot feels like an M.C. Escher nightmare about Edgar Allan Poe. What’s best, some of the folks whom Scott interviews tell such incantatory tales about Cordova’s grotesque antics that you’ll miss your subway stop, let dinner burn and start sleeping with the lights on.
Ms. Pessl seems to take it on faith that her readers will want more than the page provides. But that’s hardly guaranteed. This is a book that plods along for 500 pages without developing any momentum at all. It gathers steam only in a string of excitingly fake endings that contradict one another. Most of it is a halfhearted film noir pastiche with amusing period-piece characters (one is a perky hatcheck girl) and an array of different settings. But exploring them feels like roaming the endless domains of a video game, not like reading a book.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Pessl, Marishaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garton, RekhaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are. Will you step back and cover your eyes? Or will you have the strength to walk to the precipice and look out? Do you want to know what is there or live in the dark delusion that this commercial world insists we remain sealed inside like blind caterpillars in an eternal cocoon? Will you curl up with your eyes closed and die? Or can you fight your way out of it and fly?

—Stanislas Cordova

Rolling Stone, December 29, 1977
In memory of my grandmother,

Ruth Hunt Readinger

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Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
...indicator of the problems of today's youth; raised by the Internet, they flitted from one fixation to the next with all the gravity of a mouse-click...
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When the daughter of a cult horror film director is found dead in an abandoned Manhattan warehouse, investigative journalist Scott McGrath, disbelieving the official suicide ruling, probes into the strange circumstances of the young woman's death.

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Una noche húmeda de octubre, la joven Ashley Cordova aparece muerta en un almacén abandonado del Bajo Manhattan. Scott McGrath, un desacreditado periodista de investigación, sospecha que detrás de este aparente suicidio se oculta una verdad mucho más retorcida. Las extrañas circunstancias que rodearon la vida de Ashley se mezclan con el legado de un padre excéntrico: el enigmático Stanislas Cordova, un legendario director de cine de terror que ha permanecido fuera de escena durante más de treinta años y que ha conseguido convertir su vida en un secreto absoluto. Sus películas de culto están prohibidas en el circuito comercial y solo pueden ser visionadas en proyecciones clandestinas. La obsesión de McGrath con el cineasta sumergirá al investigador en un mundo profundamente hipnótico y siniestro, mientras el lector, a través de una serie de documentos, pistas y fotografías, le acompaña en la misma búsqueda obsesiva.
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