She haunts the 583 pages of the book, moving “like an animal,” forever dressed in shiny black boots and a “red coat catching the light behind her, making a vivid red slice in the night.” This despite the fact that she dies on page one of the narrative. She is Ashley Cordova, beautiful, prodigal, prophetic Ashley, daughter of reclusive film director Stanislas Cordova. In the telling of the story of disgraced journalist Scott McGrath’s attempts to revive his career by finding out what happened to Ashley, author Marissa Pessl uses a “multi-media” approach.
I wasn’t trying to break any boundaries but I wanted to find the best means by which to tell the story. I personally love archives and I love going through old antique stores and looking at old wedding photographs, and old class photos of people in kindergarten in the 1920s. I love looking at the ephemera people leave behind when they’re no longer here. I wanted to bring that feeling to “Night Film” and through those bits and pieces bring Cordova’s world to life. I wanted to make his world really immediate to the reader.
There’s a voyeuristic quality that I think is really compelling to be able to peruse old reports. I definitely went through a lot of old police blogs and read through crime scene reports. It’s absolutely fascinating the level of detail that goes into describing things like the blood spatter pattern and the positioning of the body, it’s absolutely fascinating. In this CSI world, where everyone knows a lot about forensics, it made sense to give that to readers, rather than just telling them about it.
From CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/19/living/books-night-film-marisha-pessl/
Pessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, sold 200,000 copies in 2006 and won her a mid-six-figure book advance, which is pretty much miraculous. (Although as an aspiring novel, one can only hope that lighting does strike twice.) As an aside, I read Special Topics with a predisposition to not liking it and ended up loving it. But unfortunately, although at times I enjoyed Night Film, I can’t say the same for it. It’s received a ton of press, and the film rights have already sold, but as a novel, whatever multi-media frippery may be added, it’s just not that great as a whole.
Essentially, Night Film is an amalgamation of Eyes Wide Shut, The Shining, Pulp Fiction, Dracula (the one where Gary Oldman roller skates across rooms and up walls), The Shawshank Redemption, the Olivia deHavilland-Joan Fontaine feud, Chinatown and others. Presumably on the theory that if you stuff all great things into one container the resulting mash-up is also great. And at times it is.
One of the key complaints I have about the novel is that so much time is spent describing movies. Film is a separate medium meant to be experienced as a film. There’s a reason for that. They are visual. It hampers the novel that so much of the reader’s understanding of the novel plot depends upon the author’s description of a set of movies that the reader has no reference to, other than the written information provided by Pessl. Frankly, the movies don’t sound like anything I would ever care to watch anyway as Pessl describes them all as being a journey through hell. I’d much prefer that Cameron Diaz Rom-Com Pessl mentions breezily near the end of the book.
I should add that Pessl with the help of a bundle of her talented NY friends, actually directed a series of videos which are posted on Youtube. These purport to be everything from audition interviews to lost footage of Cordova’s films. But of course, that doesn’t make the novel itself a film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34ZvS5-2Ml8
Reviews on Night Film are mixed. The New York Times was a definite thumbs down, Slate liked it a bit more, and novelist Meg Wolitzer writing for NPR really liked it: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/15/books/night-film-is-marisha-pessls-new-novel.html?_r=0, http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/books/2013/09/marisha_pessl_s_novel_night_film_reviewed.html, http://www.npr.org/2013/08/27/207386392/brainy-fat-and-full-of-ideas-night-film-is-a-good-natured-thriller.
McGrath and his cohorts in investigation tend to eat in NYC diners or Chinese carry-out. What could be easier than a book club catered by Chinese carry-out. That’s what I would do. Make double sure to buy fortune cookies for this book.
There’s a great scene with a washed-up actress downing a bottle of Heaven Hill bourbon. Interestingly, there are several references to Kentucky in the book which makes me wonder if Pessl has some Kentucky connection. And yes, there are lots of Heaven and Hells. Anyway, I’d have a bottle of Heaven Hill on hand for book club. McGrath drinks Macallan Scotch but I’m not a Scotch drinker.
The book is all about movie made about the path between heaven and hell. But rather than go a darker route, I think I would play some songs about the movies themselves.
The New Yorker’s list of songs about movies: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/soundtracks-songs-about-movies
Cinelist’s 50 Songs about movies, moviestars: http://cinelists.blogspot.com/2013/04/50-pop-songs-about-movies-movie-stars.html
Scott McGrath — Robert Downey, Jr.
Nora — Anna Kendrick
Hopper — Alex Pettyfer
Ashley — Shailene Woodley or Lily Collins
Have fun reading and sweet dreams!
Image: Beverly Brown designer, beverlybrown.com