Fiction Night film Omnivore reviews

Published on September 1st, 2013


Night Film by Marisha Pessl

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Blurb: On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years. For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself. Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world. (Random House, 2013)

Elena Seymenliyska, The Telegraph

“Reading it is like devouring The Magus or gorging on a box set of Twin Peaks: at once all-consuming and mind-altering. Nothing else matters while there are pages to turn and, once the book is over, the world seems an emptier place.  ”

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Stephen Amidon, The Sunday Times

Night Film is rich with arcane detail that ranges from obscure Hollywood history to the uses of occult herbs. It is also cleverly illustrated with plausible-­looking articles about Cordova and his associates from Vanity Fair, ­Rolling Stone and Wikipedia. Despite the dark themes of madness and satanic ritual, there is an overall sense of campy fun that keeps proceedings from becoming oppressive. The downside is Pessl’s overwrought, italics-laden prose, which muddies the action with a glut of awkward figures of speech”

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Fiona Wilson, The Times

“It’s a mess, and yet you find yourself turning the pages because there is something eminently gripping in the plot. You are drawn into this strange world where nothing is what it seems and, if you can stomach the flaws and the cringes, you have an entertaining read in the same league as Gone Girl. With a ferocious edit, this could be a very good book. It will certainly make an entertaining film.”

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Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Part of the dastardly fun of this novel is the way Pessl folds the plots, characters and motifs of Cordova’s films into Scott’s panicked investigation. Beneath its occult fragrance, “Night Film” is a rambling exploration of the way pop culture infects our expectations, our concepts of reality. In the book’s most mind-bending moments, Scott seems to have fallen into the celluloid and become one of Cordova’s iconic victims, scrambling for answers, for escape, for his very life. And the whole time, he’s being pursued by invisible minions and taunted by Cordovite Web fans. Unfortunately, Scott is much better as an unreliable narrator than as an efficient one.”

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The Economist

“For all its faults, Night Film is an engrossing yarn, full of twists and cliffhangers. And Ms Pessl handles Cordova’s menace superbly, keeping readers in thrall to his “gut-twisting journeys through evil underworlds”. This novel may not live up to the hype, but its pace, suspense and fiendish originality win the day.”

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Joe Hill, The New York Times

“No one can accuse Marisha Pessl of unfamiliarity with the tools of the modern thriller. With pages of faked-up old photos, invented Web sites and satellite maps, Night Film — Pessl’s second novel, following Special Topics in Calamity Physics” — asserts itself as a multimedia presentation more than an old-fashioned book. There are over a hundred chapters, most of the James Patterson two-page variety, a technique that adds a giddy accelerant to Pessl’s already zippy pacing.”

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David L. Ulin, Los Angeles Times

“The idea is to seed the story with artifacts from the real world and, in so doing, make it feel more rooted. The effect, though, is precisely the opposite, to enhance the novel’s artificiality. It’s as if we were being guided from one plot point to another, as if this were less a work of fiction than a treasure map. For all her emphasis on, well, emphasis (among other things, Night Film may set a new record for italics), Pessl can’t disguise a gaping emptiness at the center of the book.”

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Steven Poole, The Guardian

“Scott’s poor taste in prose is evidently catching, because other characters he meets instantly begin talking in this robotically emphatic way as well. A drugged-up ex-lover of Cordova’s who seems to have stumbled into this story from a minor Tennessee Williams play generously gives Scott page upon page of flashback exposition in this style: “Throughout history, alliances with the devil often manifest themselves in virtuosic mastery of an instrument.”"

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Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“Credibility problems plague Ms. Pessl from the moment she first toots the Cordova horn. His films sound terrible … And, in a badly executed, distracting gimmick, Night Film includes occasional facsimiles of press clips and notes about Cordova, some of them complete with coffee stains … Ms. Pessl seems to take it on faith that her readers will want more than the page provides. But that’s hardly guaranteed. This is a book that plods along for 500 pages without developing any momentum at all.”

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