Book review: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Hutchinson)
I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of this book.

Having loved Marisha Pessl’s previous and debut novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics I couldn’t help but be expectant that this one would be great. From the 5 star rating it’s clear that I wasn’t disappointed!

A suspenseful literary thriller that draws you in from the very start.

Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1971. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.

Not a lot to go on which makes it all the more intriguing!

The protagonist, Scott McGrath’s life took a downward spiral when he made false allegations against the infamously reclusive film director, Stanilas Cordova.

His work was discredited, he lost his job, and his wife left him – taking their baby with her. A few years after the fact, McGrath is still haunted by the incident and is convinced that something sinister is still at play.

Eager to pursue and unravel Cordova’s history and save his ruined reputation, his chance comes when Cordova’s daughter, Ashley is found dead.

The death of Cordova’s enigmatic and beautiful piano prodigy daughter provides McGrath with the opportunity to delve back into his work and uncover more family secrets.

Whilst investigating Ashley’s apparent suicide, McGrath teams up with two unlikely helpers, Hopper, a drug dealer and Nora, a hopeful actress. Both following their own agendas, and chasing the story for very different reasons.

Together the motley crew navigate the dark underworld of Cordova’s films and obsessive fans (or followers called Cordovites), uncovering the demons that haunted Ashley at every turn.

At the centre of this epic and ambitious tale is the legendary director whose world is revealed in layers.

A seemingly murky underworld full of lies, Cordova seems to be created from a combination of Roman Polanski, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. Described as “the last enigma”, Cordova hasn’t been seen in public in over thirty years.

The Cordova legend is brought to life in the book through the transmedia elements found throughout.

Newspaper clippings, magazine articles, photographs, screenshots of websites, text messages and more help surround the director behind a layer of smoke and mirrors.

The visual aids also act as powerful sources that add different voices and viewpoints to the narrative. This character felt so real, the reclusive cult legend who confined himself and his work to a mansion called The Peak.

The mansion itself seems to take on the role of a fully fledged character in this book. It was quite interesting trying to uncover who Cordova is; these days we are so overexposed to directors and actors through social media and pop culture that retaining the mystery of a prominent figure is an almost foreign concept.

Stories within stories, the plot thickening at every turn, more and more characters becoming involved.

The canon of horror movies bleeding into reality, mind games, magic all helped along by symbolism, allegory, literary allusion, and metaphor to challenge the reaches of the human psyche.

Prepare yourself for an exciting ride that takes you on a creepy journey that draws you into the rich imagery and atmosphere.

At times dark, scary and gritty, this book is essentially a tale of mind over matter.

A quote from Stanislas Cordova that begins the prologue: "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?"

There are transmedia elements woven into the book, as well as a downloadable iPhone or Android app that adds another element to the story. I’ve posted the film posters here in the meantime.

To read more of Tamarin's reviews, visit her blog.

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