Fall Reading: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Night Film has been on my reading docket for a while. And the combination of a copy being available at my local library and the beginning of my Fall Reading List (yes, I know it’s August) lead me to finally pick it up. My history with this book starts with a Google search for books to read if you’re a fan of Twin Peaks. On paper, the similarities between this book and that show are fairly obvious: a dead young woman, a hero inexplicably drawn to the case, a hidden underbelly, a mystery with no clear answer. It has all the makings of a thrill ride for film buffs, Lynch fanatics, and anyone after a good, spooky story.

When the daughter of an eccentric and prolific director commits suicide, a blacklisted reporter feels compelled to chase down the story behind it after realizing he was the last person to see her alive. The result is a twisting labyrinth of witchcraft, cults, Hollywood mysteries, and family tragedy.

What Can We Take From This?

Normally, when I read something that was excellently crafted it leads to me having a sort of jealousy induced hatred and frustration with my own work, which usually goes away in about 24 hours. This, however, resulted in the opposite. Pessl’s prose in this story was something I instantly latched onto and aspired to emulate. Her descriptions, her steady building of characters, her brilliant metaphors were all something I took to heart. Rather than having a self-destructive reaction to a beautiful work, it inspired me.

I think that says more about me than it does about the work or the author but for the first time, I didn’t feel frustrated with my own lack of fully formed abilities.

Pessl also took the time to build an entire world. She invents an alternative history where Stanislas Cordova is part of Hollywood history, where our pantheon of actors today have worked with him. She invented the plots of the films he created, telling stories within stories. She invented online communities and content to go with them. The sheer amount of work that went into building up this aura of an artist who haunts throughout the entire novel was, perhaps, more work than plotting out the story itself.

There’s a care to every piece of this, from prose to the macro world it inhabits.

Things Not So Enjoyed

The only flaw I found for myself in this, if we even want to consider it a flaw, was the excessive use of italics. Whether that was an editorial choice or a personal one for the author, the constant use of italics took away from the point of them. And it also felt distracting. It’s such a small detail that it almost feels like nitpicking for the sake of ensuring this book isn’t perfect, but distractions in books are something often hammered on in workshops, so there’s something to be said for its appearance here as a negative to the piece.

Books to follow this up with....

  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami 
  • The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch