I’m Not Going to be Able to Finish “Night Film”

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I couldn’t finish Night Film. Does this teach us a lesson about the current way that fiction is marketed and blogged about these days? Or is it just that I didn’t really like this book?

I chose to read Night Film by Pessl based solely on the good word I had heard about it on the internet. Book bloggers all over the place were talking about how much they loved it, so I thought I’d read something contemporary and hip for once. (I even recommended it to my mother.) Twenty-four days after starting Night Film, I’m quitting. I never learned the mystery about Ashely Cordova or her enigmatic father, but that’s okay. I’m giving this book the old DNF. 
Here are some of the observations I had about the novel. Interestingly, all of these faults that I’m about to mention are enumerated (more articulately, no doubt) in this article by Mark O’Connel, “The Dastardly Death of the Devilish Director’s Daughter.” Published in Slate in September of last year, the byline for the article states “You might want to roll your eyes, but they’ll be glued to the page.” If my notes are a re-hashing of what he wrote, it’s because he successfully called attention to the many flaws of the book while still raving about how great it is. 
  • This novel is relentlessly plot-driven and Night Film reads like a Da Vinci Code for hipsters. One
    Look how far I got!

    mysterious clue leads to another, which leads to another, then another ad infinitum. There’s nothing wrong with a plot-driven book, but if the book is 600 pages long, that plot better be fascinating. A shorter version might have worked; I found I gave up caring much about Ashley Cordova around page 150.

  • The book attempts to establish a creepy and menacing tone (which it does successfully in the first pages), but becomes increasingly more ridiculous as the plot winds on. Are we supposed to be onboard with the insane coincidences or contradictions of the story, or are we supposed to find this all preposterous?
  • Night Film is full of mysterious and reticent characters who go to great lengths to protect their privacy. Scott McGrath executes incredibly ambitious plans just to come face-to-face with these mysterious characters, at which point they spill the beans in monologues that go on pages at a time. Very convenient.
  • Marisha Pessl’s habit of italicizing lots of words and phrases in her prose at first seems idiosyncratic and interesting, before it becomes a total distraction. Did she not have an editor to look out for these things? 
  • The mixed-media feel of the book (including slide-shows from websites, emails, and websites that actually construct the narrative) did not bother me at all. I thought it was an interesting idea, even though it was cheaply done (many of them were stock photos purchased from Superstock or Dreamstime.) I predict that Night Film’s influence will produce more books that utilize this device. 
  • The mysterious film-maker Stanislav Cordova shares a whole lot in common with Infinite Jest‘s James O. Incandenza. Are we supposed to notice this, or is Pessl pulling one on us?
  • This book will soon be a movie, and it’s going to make millions and millions of dollars. If I could invest in this project, I would happily do so.
  • Night Film seems uniquely marketable to book bloggers who write about new books with unending enthusiasm and excitement. Just as it’s easy and tempting to gush about the new restaurant that just opened and everybody has to try, it’s easy to gush about how great this novel is. It’s so easy, you don’t even have to worry about whether it’s true.
The worst problem about the whole experience is that I’ve occupied so much time with a book I don’t like that I’ve neglected reading good stuff this summer. That, and I probably have a library fine by now. DAMN YOU, NIGHT FILM!

One thought on “I’m Not Going to be Able to Finish “Night Film”

  1. You look close to the end. I once gave up on a book just 50 pages from the end which impressed many of my readers. I've no idea what the book was, now. But today I just gave up on Aldous Huxley's After Many A Summer Dies the Swan. Too much talking, not enough action.

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