19 September 2013

Review: Night Film

Night Film
Night Film by Marisha Pessl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think you might understand the feeling I'm about to put in front of you. Imagine something you really enjoy, something that isn't perhaps your main area of interest or employment, but it's a pretty deep interest nonetheless. One day, you're doing what you do, and you trip up on something really bizarre and definitely related. It stops being an interest, it ceases its existence as a hobby, and becomes a little more all-consuming. It may only happen for a short time, but you probably know this encompassing feeling pretty well from time to time.

Night Film is that feeling.

On its surface, Night Film is a standard journalistic detective novel with some modern flairs. The book peppers the story with a lot of fake found document-type stuff along the way - darknet webpages, online news articles, old Polaroids, and so on. They help illustrate the story of the daughter of a famous movie director who, following a public dark period, killed herself in a warehouse. What starts out as a simple investigation into a famous death becomes a rabbit hole of reclusive actors and filmmakers, dark magic, and the secret underbelly of the internet.

What's great about this book, beyond the fact that it's a mystery that was able to grab me very early on and keep me hooked, is how quickly it plays with perception and reality. It's impossible to know quite where things are going from scene to scene, the ability to trust anyone, from the narrator to the characters involved, disappears in a way we don't normally see in modern fiction. The stuff going on is genuinely creepy and would fit in well with any modern discussion of so-called "weird fiction." The book bends all sorts of genres and succeeds in not feeling overdone even though the book is about 600 pages long. It's a fast-paced, suspenseful burn.

To give away the real joy of this book, though, is to give away the ending, and even then...this is ultimately something that has to be experienced. It has to be experienced because I truly believe that anyone could find themselves in the shoes of McGrath, our "hero" as it were, for something of their own. The allure of falling into a story, the temptation of being completely consumed by it. Marisha Pessl makes it scary, and that's where the fun starts out.

I never got around to reading Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a book very well-regarded that I've had on my shelf for years. Night Film has ensured that that it will be read sooner rather than later, as Night Film is really one of the best things I've read this year. Great for fans of a good mystery, but rock-solid even for those lovers of genre and the underbelly of society on a whole. Definitely highly recommended.

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