'Night Film' Will Haunt You in the Best Way Possible
Marisha Pessl's latest novel is a supernatural blur
By Ashley Moreno, 11:00AM, Wed. Oct. 23, 2013
If spiders and mayonnaise aren’t enough to strike fear in your heart this Halloween, pick up a copy of Marisha Pessl’s new interactive thriller novel, Night Film. But before downloading its accompanying app and diving in, save a few palate-cleansing cat pics to peep before bed. You’ll need them.
Pessl’s (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) new novel, Night Film, follows disgraced journalist Scott McGrath as he investigates the suicide of Ashley Cordova – the daughter of the famous cult horror director, Stanislas Cordova. Ashley’s body is found in an abandoned warehouse. Authorities quickly rule her death a suicide, but McGrath doesn’t buy it; he suspects her famous father’s involvement. But this isn’t the first time McGrath has suspected Stanislas of criminal activity. McGrath previously fell from journalistic favor after Stanislas sued him for slander and won. In spite of McGrath’s established legal trouble, he once again starts investigating the Cordovas, certain there’s more to Ashley’s death than suicide. The investigation takes McGrath on a path eerily like a Cordova film, which could be bad: Cordova’s films are internationally banned for moral depravity and extreme violence.
Film plays a central role in the novel, thematically, due to Cordova’s profession, but also in the suspenseful layout of the chapters and in the character descriptions. This produces a remarkably cinematic feel. For example, in the prologue, before he hears about Ashley’s death and before we learn anything about him, McGrath, out for a late night run, catches a glimpse of a girl in a red jacket. There’s something odd about her. For one, she’s following him. But the girl also has all the makings of a ghost in a Japanese horror film.
It was the sound of her footsteps, too heavy for such a slight person, the way she walked so stiffly, as if waiting for me … She was just a few feet ahead now. She was going to reach out, seize my arm, and her grip would be strong as a man’s, ice cold — I ran past, but her head was lowered, hidden by hair. When I turned again, she’d already stepped beyond the light and was little more than a faceless form cut out of the dark, her shoulders outlined in red.
McGrath’s encounter with the girl sets the supernatural, haunting tone for the novel. The story then unravels through first-person narrative, dialogue, and faux primary sources, like Facebook pages, text messages, newspaper clippings, psychiatric patient files, court proceedings, and letters. The format blurs the lines between reality and the world of the novel as the narrative weaves the characters into real-life events. The result is a surrealist thriller, in which the novel’s world blends with ours just as the world of Cordova’s films creeps into McGrath’s life.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like Pessl will be at the Texas Book Festival this weekend, as she just wrapped up her book tour. (Of course, I’m still holding out for a Halloween miracle!) But check out the novel, and then download the app for solid bonus features, like a recording of Ashley playing piano and an audio log from her psychiatrist. (Not that the novel doesn’t stand on its own, because, like so many great films with added features on the Blu-ray edition, it definitely does.) You can also visit Pessl's website for interviews and updates. One update to watch for in particular: a potential (and very appropriate) film adaptation with Chernin Entertainment.
by Marisha Pessl
Random House, 624 pp., $28