Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film

Author: Marisha Pessl
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Date of Publication: August 20, 2013
Pages: 624

     Night Film is about the creepiest book I have read in a long, long time.  I intend that as a high compliment.  It is creepy in a skin crawling, pulse intensifying, maddening and vividly entertaining way.  

     Marisha Pessl has created a character, reclusive horror film director Stanislas Cordova, who rivals Hannibal Lecter in over all trepidation produced.  Magically, Cordova is a character who the reader doesn't meet until the final stages of the story, but his demeanor, his mind control, his steadfast solitary lifestyle and dominance of all whom he meets, his creepiness permeates  every paragraph of this 624 page novel.

   The novel is structured around an investigation of Cordova's daughter Ashley's death, which by all evidence appears to be a straightforward suicide.  The investigation is led by Scott McGrath, an disgraced investigative journalist who has crossed swords with Cordova in the past.  He is joined by an unlikely duo: a runaway teen-aged girl and a bohemian artist/drug dealer. The quest to find the truth regarding the death of Ashley Cordova leads this unlikely partnership on a Heart of Darkness-like quest for truth which is hidden behind decades of secrecy, pseudonyms, black magic, satanic worship and more.

   In addition to the author's obvious paean to Joseph Conrad, she also pays homage to (among others) Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and even Alfred Hitchcock.  This book has been compared to the best of Stephen King, but in my opinion there is a stark difference.  To me, King's books start out with a plausible and enticing premise and then spiral down into a supernatural, unpredictable and horrific resolution.  Ms. Pessl has reversed the sequence.  After you burrow through the macabre, the rituals and black magic, the book resolves in very human and believable way.

   This is a fantastic read and I recommend it highly.  It is well worth the time and effort to read all 624 pages just to read the last chapter which is startlingly intense, provocative and some of the best prose I have ever read.  I now feel the visceral need to read Special Topics in Calamity Physics, Ms. Pessl's (a native of Asheville, North Carolina) first novel.  If it is half as good as Night Film I will be thrilled.

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