Dark & Stormy: Night Film by Marissa Pessl

ny_fashion_week_spring_2012_Christian_Siriano_red_dress_Beverly_Brown-S

     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/

    night filmPessl’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.

Save us from the fire  green-hornet-la-premiere-2011-cameron-diaz-55162

   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.

MENU

lp1681-heaven-hill---white-label-kentucky-bourbon-4-year-oldMcGrath 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.

MUSIC

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

MOVIE CASTING

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

Advertisements

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro

1111-bw-lanvin-19

Madame Zen a legendary and mysterious Russian perfumer who lived and worked in Paris, created Lanvin’s famous My Sin perfume, among others. Kathleen Tessaro’s character Madame Zed in her novel The Perfume Collector is, according to Tessaro, based on “a fistful of facts” surrounding the real perfumer. Thus, Madame Zed is both at the heart of and absent from The Perfume Collector.

In The Perfume Collector, Madame Zed launches at least one of the careers of Eva d’Orsay and also holds the secrets to Grace Munroe’s past.  She is the both the top note and base note in the novel, to employ the perfume phrase.

Eva D’Orsay works in the Warwick Hotel in New York City in 1927.  Grace Munroe is an unhappily married former debutante in England circa 1955.  When Eva dies at the opening of the book, she leaves specific instructions to dispense a plane ticket to Grace for her travel to Paris to collect an inheritance that includes a luxurious apartment, stock portfolio and a box of cheap, glass tchotches.  Grace has never met Eva, has no idea who she is or why Eva would leave her an inheritance with the bequest that Grace be able to “choose for herself.”

warwick       The setting in the Warwick Hotel certainly appealed to me, as it’s one of my favorite places in New York, both to stay and just to stop into the bar for a drink.  I always expect to see Carey Grant right around the corner.  Tessaro said in an interview with the Keep Calm and Read a book blog:  “I researched and used the Warwick Hotel in New York City, which has the kind of glamorous history that embodied the extravagant, wildly optimistic spirit of the age. Built in 1925 by William Randolph Hearst, it catered to the needs of his Hollywood friends and especially his mistress, Ziegfeld Follies, and screen star Marion Davies, who had her own specially designed floor. It was always a show business hotel and so was from the outset, was accustomed to dealing with outrageous and larger than life characters. It was also the New York home of Carey Grant for twelve years.”

https://keepcalmandreadabook.wordpress.com/tag/kathleen-tessaro/

   So between New York in the Roaring Twenties and Paris at the height of Dior’s New Look and post-war euphoria, the setting of The Perfume Collector are marvelous.  And there’s a mystery at the heart of the book, that even once you have solved, keeps you turning the pages for a bit more information.

   But to me, the most appealing element of the novel are the descriptions of the perfume creations:

My Sin, the label read, in gold lettering.

Very carefully she opened it, holding the gold stopper to her nose.  Up wafted the intense floral top notes of narcissus and freesia, warming to a dark, almost animal muskiness.  It was intoxicatingly beautiful and, at the same time, dangerous, with jarring hidden depths.

My Sin has been discontinued, alas.  And from what I can find, the perfume named Aureole Noire by its creator Monsieur Valmont has never actually existed.

Bright, icy clear and yet tender at the same time — built on the original idea of contrasting states that had inspired him with rain.  Top notes of velvety violet leaves, luxurious white flowers and light geranium, warmed to fiery depths, created from ambers resins, smoky wood and smoldering dry citrus leaves.  Underlying does of ouhd and ambergris lent it a melting, shifting quality; metamorphosing from an apparition of pure light, to a burning dark core and back again.  It was a scent that lacked coyness, made no concessions to charm.  Like standing on the edge of a great and terrifying cliff, it was shocking, beautiful, sublime.

napoleon

  The novel is a swift, pleasant, escapist journey that transports the reader through exotic places and scents and times without requiring much effort from her.

  While writing this post, I found a beautiful blog on perfumes with reviews, history, and even personalized recommendations.  http://boisdejasmin.com.  You might want to check that out.

MENU

Salade Nicoise

Use Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa recipe.  We had this at book club recently and it was the most popular dish ever served.  Our hostess mounded the salmon and vegetables on a beautiful platter and made the dressing easily available for us to serve ourselves.  Heaven!  http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-salmon-nicoise-platter-recipe.html

Crusty French bread (buy it)

A French wine, perhaps a white Burgundy, Macon-Villages

For dessert, beautiful French chocolates

MUSIC

Josephine Baker is a must.  Blue Skies, Bye Bye Blackbird

American in Paris, Leonard Bernstein

Soundtrack from Gigi

MOVIE CASTING

Madame Zed:  Shirley MacLaine

Eva D’Orsay:  Shailene Woodley

Grace Munroe:  Natalie Portman

Andre Valmont:  Chris Colfer

Roger Munroe:  Benedict Cumberbatch

Monsieur Tissot:  Jean DuJardin

Enjoy!

*Vintage Lanvin ad, postcard of the Warwick Hotel