Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks
Publication date: July 1st 2014
Stanislas Cordova is a filmmaker of mythic proportions, his films so dark, so intense they are ultimately given X-ratings and so slip off the main screen to be shown only in random locations at night. His following grows and finally, when he disappears from the world onto his 300 acre estate in the Adirondacks, he achieves a mystical cult-like status. Scott McGrath is a journalist, who when contacted by an anonymous caller who claims to have information that the director’s real life contains even more evil than is portrayed in his films, announces this news on television, ends up being sued and settles for $250,000, a major portion of his savings. His credibility shot, he sets his obsession aside until years later when he sees the news that Cordova’s twenty-four year old daughter has killed herself. The stage is now set for Marisha Pessl’s new novel, Night Film.
Night Film is as complicated and multi-dimensional as the films of Cordova. It plumbs the depths of the human mind, what is truth and what is fiction. What we bring ourselves to believe. It is a maze of a novel, luring the reader in with the promise of all the answers at its center, but like a true maze, once inside a way out may be difficult to find. As McGrath searches for answers in Ashley’s death and whether the occult played a part in it, he picks up some motley helpers. The elfin Nora Halliday, a young coat check girl at the hotel where Ashley left her coat and Hopper Cole, a strung out young man who knew Ashley when they’d both been sent to a juvenile wilderness therapy camp. Operating on the premise that Ashley was cursed as a child they begin to journey back through the limited amount of information there is about Cordova, looking for answers. Pessl heightens the growing ominous tension of the book by scattering articles, interviews and photographs of Cordova and his family throughout the novel. In the same way, she creates a sense of unease from the beginning that continues to grow exponentially even though we’re shown nothing more than a red coat, a pile of ashes, a baby doll in a pool.
Pessl does such a thorough job inculcating the reader into Cordova’s world, as perceived by McGrath, that this is one of those rare novels of psychological suspense that follows the reader throughout the day, resulting in an itchy feeling of unrest. The tension and foreboding build until it seems certain that the next page is going to bring a calamity, an event, a ‘something’ so huge and unprecedented that it will leap off the page and infect the reader. This is Pessl’s greatest achievement in Night Film because whether it happens or not, she quietly shows that it is beside the fact. But then, when one has been brought back to daylight and the blandness of reality, she throws the switch again and utter darkness descends. Without gore or violence Pessl twists the spirits of McGrath, Nora, and Hopper. Two of them make it out to their own place of acceptance about Ashley’s fate and Cordova’s existence (or not). Only one pushes on, turning fact into fiction and back into fact, chasing a man who may or may not exist, in an effort to save their own sanity.