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Night Film: A Novel

Night Film - Marisha Pessl This review and others are posted at Inspiring Insomnia.

Night Film is being marketed as the next Gone Girl, and I worry that may turn off readers. Whether you enjoyed Gone Girl or not (I did), the comparison is tiresome. Aside from the fact that both books feature a mystery, there are no similarities in the stories, and Night Film can stand on its own merits.

Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a mysterious and reclusive film director, is found dead in an apparent suicide. Her death immediately captures the attention of Scott McGrath, a journalist and the narrator of Night Film. Ashley's father, Stanislas, is more legend than man. During his career, he was rarely photographed, and even on his film sets, he was rarely seen. Everyone employed by him signs strict non-disclosure agreements, further ensuring his privacy. Some people believe that Stanislas the man doesn't actually exist; perhaps he's actually a woman, or maybe there are multiple people posing as Stanislas. The only thing known for certain is that he has a cult-like following who obsess over his dark films and the illusion of Stnislas.

Scott's career was destroyed when he was tried for slandering Stanislas Cordova by comparing him to cult leaders, calling him a predator, and suggesting he be "terminated." Nevertheless, McGrath, seeking redemption and vindication, can't stop himself from diving into the investigation of Ashley's death. Two oddball-ish characters soon join Scott: Nora, a nineteen-year-old coat-check girl, and Hopper, a young drug dealer. Both Nora and Hopper have their own reasons for wanting to learn if Ashley's death was really a suicide. The secondary characters in Night Film, Nora and Hopper, in particular, are one of the book's many strengths. There are MANY characters we need to keep up with, and with the exception of Scott's ex-wife, whose primary function is to be annoying, and his young daughter, whose primary function is to be adorable, they are all fascinating and unique.

Ashley is described by many people as exceptionally beautiful, talented, and intelligent. The more we learn about her, the darker her life seems, and potentially dangerous mysteries are revealed. It's a testament to Marisha Pessl's writing that even when Scott's investigation took some absolutely incredible turns, I was drawn right in. What initially appeared to be a straight-up death investigation is slowly, possibly revealed as something much darker.

It's worth noting, especially to people who are slow readers like me, that Night Film is over 600 pages. Fortunately, the story moved along at a good pace for most of its length. There were some draggy moments near the end, but the ending was so satisfying, it made up for it. Back to that silly Gone Girl comparison - if you've read it, you know it ends on a ?!?!?! note. Night Film, on the other hand, has quieter "wow" moments, but I don't think the intention was to shock readers.

Also within the 600 pages are 50 pages or so of made-to-look-read online articles, photos, secret websites and forums, transcripts, etc. These help to give a sense of authenticity to the story, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people get confused: "Wait - I thought this was fiction!"

Scott's not one of those genius investigators commonly seen on TV; a lot of his breakthroughs are pure luck or owed to witnesses who are mostly (and perhaps, unrealistically) always ready to talk. I was firmly on Scott's side. I wanted him to get his redemption. And just as much as the characters in the novel, I wanted the mystery of Stanislas Cordova's identity revealed. Mystery lovers should enjoy spending some time with the original, and sometimes frightening, story in Night Film.