Friday, November 22, 2013

Reading Challenge Redux - Night Film by Marisha Pessl

This year the challenge of my reading challenge is shaping up to be writing about the books I've said I'd read, rather than the actually reading of them (and just to recap, the challenge I set myself was to read another book by an author I'd previously read). My last post was in August, but I've actually read a number of my To Be Read pile books: although I haven't had the time to fill anyone in on them.'m determined to remedy that and so I'll start with the most anticipated book on my challenge this year; one which I didn't have the option to read early in the year (because it wasn't released until August) and one that I have been waiting to read for several years: Night Film (M) by Marisha Pessl.

Let's start with the why of this book's highly anticipated status. Reason #1: Pessl is the author of one other book, a first novel that developed a bit of a cult following: the quirkily titled Special Topics in Calamity Physics (M). Reason #2: this second book was quite delayed. Special Topics was released in in 2006 and fans were already waiting for a follow up. Night Film was long rumoured as a second project, then given a release date in the summer of 2012, but then pushed back until this year. Was it worth the wait? Read on! Film centres around the enigmatic film director Stanislas Cordova, whose underground film oeuvre has won him legions of devoted fans, and cult popularity. Scott McGrath is a journalist whose career is on the rocks after launching a failed investigation into Cordova: having accused Cordova of sinister dealings, McGrath ended up in the spotlight of a libel suit and Cordova back into the shadows. Then, "on a damp October night, the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. By all appearances her death is a suicide--but investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise.... As McGrath pieces together the mystery of Ashley's death, he is drawn deeper and deeper into the dark underbelly of New York City and the twisted world of Stanislas Cordova, and he begins to wonder--is he the next victim?"

Pessl is a talented writer: she builds vivid scenes and characters. In Night Film, this aspect of her writing is on full display. Set largely in New York City, Night Film is like a walking tour of the city: the streets are alive and the reader can envision them self moving through the settings. On top of her vivid descriptions of real world places, she creates wonderfully dark, creepy, elaborate sets for the scenes of her book: night clubs, gothic shops, a sprawling estate. For a book steeped in film lore, sets seems the correct word for it: and in fact, the book's vivid approach to storytelling made me feel the author had an adaptation in mind all along. (There is in fact a film version currently in development). enjoyed not knowing too many details of the plot going into reading Night Film, so I'll leave you with the same. I'll tell you that it is a very clever noir thriller, dripping with atmosphere and intrigue. Kirkus reviews called it "An inventive--if brooding, strange and creepy--adventure in literary terror" and that feels kind of right. Of note as well though is that Night Film isn't just a straight forward text-based novel: photographs, newspaper and magazine excepts, website screenshots pepper the text, building a sense of realism around this fictional tale and making the reader feel a part of an investigation, rather than just an observer. Night Film sounds intriguing, you should definitely also check out Pessl's debut Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Novelist suggests that the writing of Jennifer Egan may also appeal to Pessl fans -- particularly the more gothic The Keep (M). The website Bookbrowse suggests the work of Kelly Braffet, another young female suspense novelist. Not a name that I recognize, though her book Last Seen Leaving (M), about a girl who hasn't been seen for two months after crashing her car and being picked up roadside by a sinister stranger sounds like it might be something new for my To Be Read list.

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