Night Film: "Sovereign, deadly, and perfect"

Pessl_Night-Film
Pessl_Night-Film

Marisha Pessl's second novel "Night Film" opens at 2 AM on a rainy October night as Scott McGrath, disgraced journalist, is running around the track at the Central Park Reservoir, a dangerous pastime his insomnia has enticed him into substituting for sleep. He keeps catching glimpses of a dark-haired woman in a red coat, someone courting danger even more so than he is, but never manages to make contact in the misty dark. It turns out the woman was Ashley Cordova, daughter of  famed mysterious film director, Stanislas Cordova, and the architect of McGrath's disgrace.  Five years earlier, McGrath had taken on an investigation into Cordova's life, and made mistakes that cost him his career and his marriage, as well as a healthy chunk of his financial stability.  Now that Cordova's 24 year old daughter has died, perhaps a suicide in a jump into an elevator shaft in an abandoned Chinatown warehouse, McGrath can't help himself. Certain she's the woman he saw in Central Park, he plunges back into the dark world of Cordova and his films in one last attempt to prove the director is a sinister figure, a man Scott McGrath defamed with faulty proof on national TV. There's something very wrong about Cordova, and Scott knows it, despite lawsuits and enforced silence. This time he won't make the mistakes he made before, taken in by unsubstantiated information, determined but no longer impetuous.

Pessl has created a unique novel, fashioned with pieces of internet information, photographs, and media clippings that look truly authentic. There's even an interactive component, a downloadable app you can access, for further content. It's wonderful, voyeuristic, scary fun.  In Cordova, she has created an almost mythical film director,  akin to Kubrick, Hitchcock, Welles, and their darker cousins, but no one comes close to him for sheer terror and the discovery of the dark wastelands of the human mind.  Cordova's films are no longer accessible to the general public, but shown only in private and very secret places, like the catacombs of Paris, the whereabouts of each screening a Chinese puzzle, granting knowledge and entrance to only the truly dedicated and very lucky. Below is one of "Night Film" 's realistic news stories:

Ashley
Ashley

McGrath encounters two young associates, Nora and Hopper, each with their own murky pasts and reasons to find the truth about Ashley and her father, and relies on some of his old friends to help him get back into the game. The further he delves, the further he sinks into the depths of the wormhole.  I began to worry about how this could possibly end, but I needn't have. Pessl took a page from her character's playbook and not only doesn't disappoint, she dazzles. The names of Cordova's movies alone are an imaginative treat, just like "Night Film" itself.  "Sovereign, deadly, and perfect" is how he describes a close-up of an eye (his own) in one of his films and this becomes the tagline for the Cordovites, his fans.  What Cordova brings to life in his films is his idea that "Society tries to mow the lawn and trim back the plants, but every one of us is just days away from a wild jungle."

I read a lot -- history, social and environmental issues,memoirs, food,  biographies, novels, just about everything. But "Night Film" was the first book I've read this year I had serious trouble putting down. It's one of those you take to the kitchen with  you while you wait for the coffee to brew, or you look at the clock and are surprised to see midnight already."Night Film" is superbly suspenseful, beautifully written and undeniably different. I loved it.  I only wish Cordova was real and I could descend to some secret labyrinth and watch his films. He's my kind of guy, and Marisha Pessl is my kind of writer.

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