Like Pessl’s first novel, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (think Prime of Miss Jean Brodie if it had been co-written by Patricia Highsmith), Night Film has a lot going on. While there’s quite a bit of plot to keep track of, the pace is pretty swift. It also helps that Pessl’s style is so compelling, you’re willing to follow the characters just about anywhere.
I’m so happy for the freedom that writing a book suggestion brings–I’ve tried four times to summarize this haunting piece of work, and so far nothing I’ve come up with can do it justice. So I’ll let the pros, the publisher, try to sell it to you:
Brilliant, haunting, breathtakingly suspenseful, Night Film is a superb literary thriller by the New York Times bestselling author of the “blockbuster debut” (People) Special Topics in Calamity Physics.
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.
Eerie and hypnotic. Those are the perfect words for this story. Though they forgot darkly funny and peopled with some very well-realized, if strange, characters. The tone is creepy and haunting throughout–even with the lighter moments, that pervading sense of dread never quite lifts entirely. My favorite aspect of this novel is the way art in general and filmmaking in particular are both discussed and explored. I love the way the themes of truth and illusion play into the central plot, and how the fans of Cordova’s movies, the “Cordovites,” are stand-ins for the type of fans who give themselves entirely over to the work that they love. It’s all taken to drastic, dark extremes, and works very well.
This is one of those novels to lose yourself in. It’s an entire world that Pessl has created here. You never once doubt its reality while you’re in it. Much like watching an exquisitely made film.