Friday, December 20, 2013

Contemporary Fiction: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Marisha Pessl's Night Film has been nominated in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller. I had discovered the book before I saw it had been nominated for the award, and it was one of those books I first received from the library, but later found at Half Price Books and was delighted at the chance to buy it and own it for myself, even though I didn't yet know how it ended. I was already convinced that it was something I would want to add to my own personal library.

The Situation: Scott McGrath is a disgraced former investigative journalist. He already once tried to discover the well-kept secrets behind the life of Stanislav Cordova, a well- known, incredibly famous, and notoriously secretive, directer of several iconic horror films. The man has a fierce following, and to say that his movies have become cult classics would be an understatement. There is even a secret, hidden website that only the most hardcore and committed fans are able to access. When McGrath attempted to investigate Cordova the first time, he was slapped with a million-dollar slander lawsuit after making some harsh, and rather foolish, comments about the man on television. It also didn't help that MCGrath's inside source was found to not exist, ruining MCGrath's reputation and causing him to lose his job. Now, Cordova's young daughter, Ashley, has been found dead in an abandoned warehouse, and McGrath sees this as another opportunity to find out the truth about the secretive director.

The Problem: If the first botched investigation ended up costing McGrath his reputation and his career, this one may cost him even more. Every lead McGrath finds and every new bit of information he encounters tends to offer more questions than it does answers. And it seems like someone from Cordova's own office is onto him and following him around, throwing obstacles in the way at crucial points, making this investigation even more difficult and problematic than it already is. Also, most of the people who would have the information McGrath needs have either seemingly disappeared off of the face of the earth, or they just aren't talking, or they're dead. But McGrath is determined to find the truth, and believes that he was always onto something, even before the lawsuit that was filed years ago halted his career. Cordova has become his white whale, but the search just might kill him.

Genre, Themes, History: I almost gave this book the heading of "horror," but decided against it. The book deals with a famous yet reclusive director of horror movies and some of the real life horrors that have surrounded his life and his films. And while there are no moments when anyone is being chased by a psychotic serial killer, there is still plenty of chasing. And many of the stories and legends surrounding Cordova and his films are just plain creepy. Also, throughout the book, Pessl includes clips from articles, screenshots of websites, including the secret one that is only for the most hardcore fans, and even some of McGrath's own typed notes with his handwriting of other details in the margins. Not only do these things lend to the book's credibility (as much as that is possible with a fiction novel), but it also lends to the creepy factor. Pessl put a lot of work into giving Cordova a complex history, and also made his fictitious film cannon as detailed as possible, as if I could go onto Netflix today and find his movie titles. Other themes include black magic, skepticism, method acting, Meta fiction, seclusion, and parental love. 

My Verdict: If you want a great mystery and/or thriller, then Night Film is the book for you. Pessl spares no detail when crafting this well-done mystery involving a director of famously harrowing movies and his recently deceased daughter. And while there are parts that come very close to terrifying, they weren't scary enough to make me afraid of going on with the story, but they were just intriguing enough that I knew I had to go on until the very end. Which brings me to the one real qualm I have with the book: I feel like, with all of the lead-up and evidence that the reader is provided, that Pessl wrote herself into a corner and wasn't really sure what to do with the ending. McGrath had been through all of this stuff, some of it pretty crazy, interviewed all of these people, collected all of this evidence, heard so many different sides of the story, and the ending, I felt, kind of leaves everything flat. For me, it was just unsatisfying. But considering MCGrath's character and his experiences, that could be the point, so there could be readers out there who will like the ending just fine. I very much enjoyed everything else that lead to that point, almost making it one of those books I wish I could read again for the first time, just so I can unravel the mystery again. But seeing as this book is almost 600 pages long, therefore making it a door stop, I think I'll move on.

Favorite Moment: When McGrath is seemingly and finally willing to believe in the effect of the supernatural when it comes down to his daughter possibly being in danger. A parent's love and concern for their child and their safety can cause people to believe things they never thought they would.

Favorite Character: I would have to choose MCGrath's unlikely yet quirky partner Nora, an aspiring actress (naturally) living in New York City, trying to slowly make a name for herself by auditioning for off-off Broadway productions, one of which is a gender-bending version of Shakespeare's Hamlet

Recommended Reading: If I lean more towards creepy instead of scary, I choose The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. If I decide to lean towards scary, I suggest Joyland by Stephen King. 

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