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Editorial Reviews

Editors Select, August 2013 - I don’t often find myself interested in literary psychological thrillers, but the early buzz on Night Film – a dark novel by Marisha Pressl (of Special Topics in Calamity Physics fame) – was enough to pique my interest. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that’s legitimately creeped me out, and this novel opens with a ghost story that set the tone. I’ve only just started reading the book, and it already feels like something bad is lurking on the every page. Scott McGrath is a shamed journalist who takes a new interest in an old case when his former subject’s daughter turns up dead at the bottom of an abandoned building’s elevator shaft. The book hinges on Scott’s investigation into the victim’s family, particularly her reclusive filmmaking father, who put Scott out of business in the first place. It’s an absolutely chilling page-turner and will be even more frightening in audio. —Chris, Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Brilliant, haunting, breathtakingly suspenseful, Night Film is a superb literary thriller by the New York Times best-selling author of the "blockbuster debut" (People) Special Topics in Calamity Physics.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive, cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova - a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than 30 years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense to the final minute.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.

©2013 Marisha Pessl (P)2013 Random House Audio

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  • Amanda
  • Phoenix, AZ, United States
  • 01-12-14

What's Real?

Night Film was easily one of the best books I've read; not just for 2013, but ever. It has easily made it's way into my top 10 list of all time great books.

While I read Night Film at the end of August, I find it still haunting me as I write this review. This, for me, is one of the true tests of a great book. I can't quite get it out of my head.

Night Film is narrated by the gifted Jake Weber; currently best know for his role on "The Medium", but also credited with countless other movie and television performances. Mr. Weber plays the role of Scott McGrath flawlessly; and as the story is told in first person narrative, it takes on an especially personal tone as he tells the story. He allows the tale to shine through as it slowly, hauntingly, and sometimes terrifyingly weaves it's way through the mystery that is the apparent suicide of Ashley Cordova (the daughter of the legendary, reclusive, cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova) and the rebirth of McGrath's investigation into the director himself; an investigation that years prior ruined both his career and reputation.

Nothing is as it seems - or is everything exactly the way it seems? Does the truth, perhaps, lie somewhere in the middle? Your view may shift, as mine did, back and forth as I repeatedly had to question every assumption and belief I had formed, over and over again, as new information - sometimes truth, sometimes a lie - is layered into the disturbing file of interviews, experiences, and information we gather with McGrath.

The story makes you feel part of this haunting decent into uncertainty you spiral through. By the end, I was uncomfortable, disturbed, fascinated... and satisfied.

The book comes with countless old photographs, magazine articles, and other clippings from the past that make both the investigation and our belief in the mythology of the background all the more real. If you choose to experience the book via the audio version, please note that when you download the book from your library on there is also a supplemental PDF Download link offered directly under the title of the book. This will be especially important for your enjoyment of the first small section of the story as it steps you through a New York Times article regarding Ashley's death, and a Time Magazine Photo Spread of historical photos of the Cordova family.

I hope that if you choose to read this book in any form, you enjoy it even a fraction as much as I did. I can tell you that I gave 4 copies as gifts, and all 4 people loved the book as much as I did. Again, I encourage you to experience the story as only Jake Weber can tell it - but no matter what format you choose, prepare to have the experience stay with you for the foreseeable future.

45 of 47 people found this review helpful

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You will feel detached from reality off and on, and unable to tell what is real and what isn't. This is the brilliance of this writer--to keep you as off balance as the characters in the novel. No matter if you love the story or not, there is no question that Marisha Pessl is a superbly talented writer. I loved it.

The review by Linda does an excellent job of summing up the story without giving anything away. She wrote what I was feeling.

I will look up other works by this author as time goes by, hoping she comes up with another gem like this one. In the meantime, I plan on listening to this one again.

26 of 28 people found this review helpful

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  • linda
  • United States
  • 08-26-13

Eerie, Relentless, Riveting

Have you ever watched a film and clung to a pillow like it’s the last life preserver on the Titanic? Eyes blown wide open, skin prickling in terror, instincts screaming ‘run’ but you’re held captive by the depravity playing out before you? Have you ever wondered – as the credits crawl up the screen and you find yourself nauseated at the thought of being alone in a dark room– what kind of person has those horrors locked in his head?

In Marisha Pessl’s Night Film, it is Stanislas Cordova: writer, director and producer of films so violently macabre that audiences must meet in abandoned tunnels to view his banned material. Cordova’s name is synonymous with the blackest corners of humanity but despite the infamy of his work and rabidly devoted fan base, very little is known about the man. His personal life is a black hole. All who collaborate on his films: actors, crew, even family, refuse to speak about their experiences.

Despite ruining his reputation by inquiring into the director's life year's earlier, investigative journalist Scott McGrath cannot uproot an instinct that Cordova’s work reflects a profound and tangible evil. After Cordova’s daughter commits suicide in a crumbling warehouse, McGrath takes up his line of questioning once again determined to bring the truth about the director to the surface.

Pessl’s story, augmented by mock-up articles, websites, and eerie photographs (all accessible on a PDF that comes with the audio version) pulls the reader through a kaleidoscopic nightmare. It’s 23 hours long and even though some twists feel contrived, the writing is excellent and the atmosphere, chilling.

This book is like walking down a rural road at midnight with the unnerving certainty that someone is following you. Just because you can’t see anyone as you glance anxiously over your shoulder doesn’t mean you’re alone.

42 of 46 people found this review helpful

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  • Cidney
  • New Orleans, United States Minor Outlying Islands
  • 09-23-13

It’s a Chinese Puzzle Box

I’m reading the negative reviews wondering how anyone could not have enjoyed this book, and I see a theme here. It seems that those who didn’t like the book were looking for a straightforward, linear genre novel. That’s not what this is, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you should do as one reviewer suggested and go for the latest Lee Child or Robert Crais.

Night Film is a psychological drama with “mystery” and “thriller” elements. There is a mystery and there are thrills (I found myself gasping out loud at some of the events), but from start to end this story is no simple mystery. It is as intricate and fine as a well-crafted puzzle box. And consider that of the two contrasting characters one is a reporter who’s job is to find the truth, the other is a film director who’s job is to create fiction, and you can imagine the labyrinthine rabbit hole the director leads the reporter down. It’s dark and deceptive. Our rational hero must question everything he sees and experiences – was that real or was that the Primrose Path he’s expected to follow? And even the object he seeks, The Truth, must also be questioned.

One reviewer said that at the end of the book she wanted to start it all over again armed with a new perspective. I felt the same way! And I imagine that like a good puzzle box this story doesn’t have one way in but many, and those entry points can only be found after subsequent readings.

I love these long, chewy novels you can really sink your teeth into. Let Jake Weber’s narration wrap around you like a warm blanket and snuggle in for an amazing ride.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Wanna see something REALLY scary?

Pessl approaches this novel like a film -- with a filmmaker's attention to the set, the lighting, the camera angles -- creating the perfect mise en scène for a film-like experience with this gothic psychological thriller. The story borrows elements from iconic directors we are all familiar with (Hitchcock, Lynch, Kubrick, Polanski), but Pessl has used those influences intentionally and well, and combined them with the novelty of the multimedia PDF. The photos, news clippings, movie posters, etc. give an odd sense of surrealism to the reading experience. Even the cover of the book pays a kind of tribute to an older classic thriller, Don't Look Now with its red-coated dopplegänger.

Having read this a while a go and coming back and re-writing a review (after a problem with my first), the impact of the PDF seems evident. You are immediately immersed and you won't want to put the book down. Being involved in the story is consuming; the *props* of the pictures, obituaries, articles etc. suck you in and keep you gripped in a very atmospheric experience. With some separation, I still feel this was a spooky fun story well worth the time, but not the blockbuster I'd hoped for. As an experience, just like a good carnival ride, you feel like you'd like it to go on and on, but as a book you'd pull off the shelf and sit down to read -- it makes a few too many laps that didn't add anything (other than a little more time on the coaster). Still it was one of the most fun reads I've had in a while, and I have to give Pessl an extra star for a great effort, and her attention to detail.

With all of the devil worship, witch craft, on and on...I thought the most *terrifying* aspect of this book was in one of the many little possibilities that Pessl slips in...sometimes the events we have to face in reality make the most terrifying and horrible nightmares pale in comparison. The accompanying media is crafted very well (the PDF comes with the purchase and is easily accessible) and adds a fun dimension to a well written book.

42 of 48 people found this review helpful

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  • Suzn F
  • Fletcher, VT, US
  • 08-26-13

Extremely Creepy, Spooky, Scary, Cool Book!!!!

Okay, I'll skip the synopsis as other reviewers have done a terrific job with the summaries. However this quote from the book best summarizes the experience of reading/listening to this book I think, “Just when you think you've hit rock bottom, you realize you're standing on another trapdoor.”
― Marisha Pessl, Night Film
M. Pessl gives the reader/listener quite a roller-coaster ride in this story. The supporting documentation makes the fantasy come alive in such a unique cool way.
From the beginning the listener/reader becomes invested in the characters. It's nearly impossible for a writer to keep the reader/listener intensely interested and truly engaged in such a long book (listening for 23 hours and 9 minutes) but Pessl does that, expertly. In fact at the end I wanted to begin the book again, start over with what I learned with a new perspective. (I'm making myself wait a while)
However I'm not sure what to listen to next really, what kind of book can follow an experience like this?
The narrator is also terrific, truly a professional who captures the pace, story and accents with precision.

35 of 40 people found this review helpful

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A Fabulous thriller

Wonderful read with intriguing mysteries. I made myself wait to listen so this book would last longer or I would have listened to it start to finish. I would not change a thing about this book, it leaves you thinking, wondering about the characters, and the narration is fabulous, great character voices and accents.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • Ted
  • Lancaster, PA, United States
  • 12-05-13

End it… Don't… No end it… No No… Don't… but… Ye...

This is good stuff!

On the down side, Pessi breaks out in rashes of over-writing… She also suffers in one scene from I-Need-An-Editor flu. But… but… Hollywood tells us that there are only what, 8 different stories? Well, I have no idea into which I'd drop this imagination explosion… These characters are so magnetic… I cared about them. Enough that the torrent of what at first seemed like epilogues pulled me into an entirely different experience. Yep, kept expecting an ending but…

Let's step out of the review here and talk about something unique to audio books. Unlike a hardbound on your lap, you're never spontaneously aware of how much more is to come. That's a good thing if you want the author to own surprise. Sooo back to the review.

Chapters began to end the story… then abruptly Jake Webber announced another… and another and… And it works. I'm convinced that Pessi's brilliance blended with Weber's talent will forgive almost everything.

Steven King once wrote like this, but he'd depend upon the gross-out to snap him away from trouble. Pessi keeps portending, but she has another solution. Not to worry, no spoiler alert here… Just another satisfaction with her startlingly complex talent.

I hope that next time Pessi will sand down some histrionics, and maybe disobey the rules and tell us rather than show every detail. Won't matter though… I'll preorder whatever she does next. Pessi's a resonant new psychological thrill pilot.

15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • C. Telfair
  • Shepherdstown, WV, United States
  • 08-28-13


I am in the minority here, as I do not fully agree with most of the other reviewers. Although this book starts well, and Pessl's writing is very good, I found "Night Film" to be something of a slog. It's just too long - why can't she and many other talented young writers (I'm talking to you, Tana French) learn the value of listening to a good, exacting editor?

I liked the premise, and the characters are quirky and compelling, but so much of this book is just going in circles. It adds up to much ado about not much. Sorry, but I think I'll skip the next one.

45 of 54 people found this review helpful

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Half of a good book, saved by a great performance.

What did you like best about Night Film? What did you like least?

The performance.

Would you ever listen to anything by Marisha Pessl again?


Have you listened to any of Jake Weber’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I don't believe so but he's wonderful.

Did Night Film inspire you to do anything?

Yes - stop reading this author!

Any additional comments?

This is half of a good book. It is fascinating in the beginning but then completely jumps the shark and becomes overwrought and silly. I cannot believe the author managed to sell the film rights.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful