Night Film by Marisha Pessl
Published by Windmill Books
30th January 2014
Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn't been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an enigma. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.
On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.
For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.
The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.
Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not.
Maybe your next-door neighbour found one of his movies in an old box in her attic and never entered a dark room alone again. Or your boyfriend bragged he'd discovered a contraband copy of At Night All Birds Are Black on the Internet and after watching refused to speak of it, as if it were a horrific ordeal he'd barely survived.
Whatever your opinion of Cordova, however obsessed with his work or indifferent - he's there to react against. He's a crevice, a black hold, an unspecified danger, a relentless outbreak of the unknown in our overexposed world. He's underground, looming unseen in the corners of the dark. He's down under the railway bridge in the river with all the missing evidence, and the answers that will never see the light of day.
He's a myth, a monster, a mortal man.
And yet I can't help but believe when you need him the most, Cordova has a way of heading straight toward you, like a mysterious guest you notice across the room at a crowded party. In the blink of an eye, he's right beside you by the fruit punch, staring back at you when you turn and casually ask the time.
Marisha Pessl took the book world by storm with her debut novel Special Topics in Calamity Physics in 2006 but has not written another novel since. When I heard Night Film was coming out I was excited, yet daunted. Could she pull it off again, after such a long gap?
From the start Night Film is set to imprint on your life. It's a fantastically clever combination of prose, intertwined with newspaper articles, photos and underground blog posts. Marisha Pessl is so clever that you actually start to believe that Stanislas Cordova really does exist, as do his films just from the way the information is set out in front of you.
Scott McGrath is an journalist with a grudge to bear against Cordova, he's been trying to find out more about the man behind the movies for years but the last time he got too involved and it ended up with his marriage ending and a custody battle with his daughter. Running in the park one night, McGrath spots a mysterious girl in a red coat who seems to be following him. Who is she, and what does she want?
Days later, Stanislas' daughter Ashley, a talented musician, is found dead in an abandoned warehouse. It seems that she was the girl in the red coat, but what did she want with McGrath? Before he can really think about it, he is drawn back into the world he once swore he would stay away from. What happened to Ashley and why was she reaching out to him? Can McGrath finally uncover the truth about the mysterious life and world of Stanislas Cordova without it taking over his life?
Make no doubts about it, Night Film is a big book, some 656 pages in the paperback edition but I flew through it. The cover says it's in the same league as Gone Girl, it isn't, it's much better. Night Film is probably not like anything else you will read this year. Try it, I don't think you'll be disappointed.