Thursday, August 22, 2013

Preparation for the Big Event (Part Two)

ISBN-10: 140006788X
ISBN-13: 9781400067886
Published: Random House, 08/20/2013
Pages: 624
Language: English
In just two days, Marissa Pessl will be interviewed by Haven Kimmel at Flyleaf Books. Since I've already praised her debut novel to the high heavens, I thought I would take a moment and tell you why you should read her new novel, Night Film. In some ways, Night Film is actually a significant departure from Special Topics. Instead of a teenage girl, the story concerns a reporter and his obsessive investigation into the death of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of an enigmatic director whose films have inspired obsessive devotion from his many followers. It's very difficult to discuss the plot any further without spoiling the many twists and turns the narrative takes, but it's safe to say that the novel's structure creepily echoes a descent into madness. 

Pessl is able to mine huge amounts of dread and horror out of seemingly typical noir scenarios. However, things quickly take a turn for the weird that will pull the reader further and further into a terrifying rabbit hole of obsession, ambiguity, and mystery. I practically flew through the book, especially during one of Pessl's many masterfully executed set pieces, which take advantage of the author's extensive knowledge of film and the mechanics of suspense. Indeed, the book's interest in the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of the everyday reminded me of David Lynch's masterpiece Blue Velvet. The oppressive atmosphere of paranoia and confusion also reminded me of Hitchcock's late-period psychological thrillers, especially Vertigo. Rarely has Hitchcock's axiom: "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it" been so thoroughly proven correct. 

Film buffs will likely tear through Night Film, but even the least cinematically inclined will appreciate Pessl's extremely detailed, vividly imagined world. Pessl's prose remains as acrobatic and funny as ever, with the noir trappings suiting her voice perfectly. Even the pieces of "evidence" that break up the prose-- coroner's reports, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, web pages, etc.-- feel realistic and necessary. The wonderful thing about Pessl's work is that she doesn't trade surface entertainment for depth. An engaging, enjoyable mystery forms the backbone of Night Film's narrative, but if you care to dig deeper you might find yourself as entranced as Cordova's acolytes.

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