Marisha Pessl’s Night Film is haunting and addictive, with a huge let-down ending.
The story centers around Scott McGrath, a journalist who saw his life hit the skids when he reported on elusive, reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova and he lost his family and his career. When Cordova’s daughter, Ashley, is found dead by an apparent suicide, McGrath sees another chance to investigate the Cordova legacy. Seemingly flush with financial resources, despite a sour career, McGrath hires an assistant and hands out cash for information at every turn. Even early on I wondered where his money was coming from, and it never let up.
The book has a foggy, noir-shrouded feeling to it, and Pessl does a wonderful job capturing a mood, a tone, that implies the very tone of Cordova’s films. It is easy to see why McGrath becomes obsessed with finding answers, and ‘obsessed’ is precisely what happens to McGrath.
McGrath’s assistant is hired, not at all for her administrative or detective skills, but out of charity. He feels sorry for her, living on the streets. Yet her organizational skills, creative thinking, and detecting work, easily rival his own. And a second partner in the group, who comes and goes whenever it seems to be needed for the plot to move forward, has an astonishing ability to get precisely the information needed when it’s needed the most. There is an attempt later in the book to explain this, but it doesn’t quite work. it explains why he has the ability to know where to look, but not how he is able to all the right places (for instance **SPOILER ALERT** the super-secret club in which McGrath gets chased out of, our silent sometimes-partner not only gets in, but gets the top-secret hard-to-get info!
The book starts out with a bang and the reader is quickly sucked in; and like an addiction, the reader is pulled along, pulled along, pulled along, staying with the story, in part because escape seems impossible and in part because it’s interesting. It IS interesting. But the longer it goes (and at 600 pages, it goes) the more the reader realizes that McGrath and company are working in circles, not building suspense as much as trying to build a (false) sense of hoodoo-ism.
The climax of the book is a fantastical, psychedelic, transcendant scene … a chapter nearly ten times longer than any other chapter in the book. It is at once unbelievable and wild and seemingly out-of-place within the world of the novel, but possibly totally in character with the movies that Cordova was famous for making. Is McGrath high? Is he tripping out on something that was slipped to him somehow? Has he become a character in one of Cordova’s stranger films? This chapter seems like a novelette Pessl wrote and sold somewhere else and had to find a place for it in the book.
The denouement is totally un-satisfying. It happens…sometimes the end isn’t what we were wanting, expecting, or even hoping for. But after taking the reader on such a journey as this, with a climax as outrageous as it was, the ending is completely and utterly disappointing. Really, I thought, I spent that much time, for that? Even the character in the book recognizes it:
The rush of solving these last few mysteries was almost immediately replaced with something else, a sense of hollowness, even grief. I felt let down . . . however much I might not want to face it, wanting something larger than life . . . I was actually standing on flat dry land, which was blindingly lit, but barren.
Looking for a good book? This will suck you in very quickly, but most likely leave you very unsatisfied.
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author: Marisha Pessl
publisher: Random House
hardcover, 602 pages