J thinks Night Film by Marisha Pessl is cake…with icing

Unknown-1The Cake : Night Film is a super entertaining story that kept me turning the pages the entire week I spent reading it. It distracted me from all competing little chores like Christmas baking and work.

The plot focuses on an enigmatic filmmaker named Stanislas Cordova. In his films, Cordova explores the realm of human nature: good and bad, dark and light, insane and sinister… and so on. The characters in his movies often live, exist, and act where one human attribute ends and its darker counterpart begins. The filmmaker and his films are controversial, shrouded in rumors and fantastic stories. The film sets are believed to be cursed due to a seemingly inordinate number of serious mishaps that take place during filming. His actors, after appearing in his films, tend to drop out of mainstream society and never discuss their experiences on the sets in public. Cordova himself gives no interviews and lives in seclusion with lawyers and people to protect him and his privacy. In fact, rumors about him include every imaginable conspiracy from the question of his actual existence, to the suggestion that he is a criminal of unimaginable evil. (The parallels between Cordova and actual filmmakers, both current and past, makes great fodder for conversation.) Cordova has a cult following of people who refer to themselves as Cordovites. They host underground nighttime viewings of his movies communicated to other Cordovites and fans with a secret graffiti code marked on doors of abandoned warehouses and other clandestine venues. Cordovites run secret websites devoted to scrutinizing every bit of information available on the man and his work.

Cordova is the center of the plot, however, the principal character in the story is Scott McGrath.  McGrath is a journalist who was known for his fearless and sometimes savage reporting. At his peak, no topic was too taboo for McGrath, no bit of evidence out of reach. That is, until he went after Cordova.  McGrath decided to write an expose’ on the filmmaker following the arrest of a serial child-killer. The murderer had admitted to copying scenes he’d seen in a Cordova movie.  McGrath planned to reveal Cordova as the puppeteer behind all the darkness and mystery associated with his films and his reputation. Cordova and his lawyers fought back with a ferocious defamation suit winning most of McGrath’s wealth and capital, costing him his job, his credibility as an objective journalist, and finally his marriage.

Night Film begins with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter and Cordovite conspiracy theories running wild.  McGrath, a man with nothing to lose finding his adversary in the news again, plunges in. He is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery of Cordova once and for all.

You know I don’t like to give away secrets, Scramblers. So I will just tell you to prepare to twist and turn, swivel, wriggle, contort, and spin.  You’ll encounter truths and illusions, white lies and black magic. You’ll get a little bit of a super-hero flavor from McGrath, but nothing that made me roll my eyes too much. It’s fiction. It’s supposed to suspend the imagination. Throughout the book, Pessl will drop references and likenesses to films and actors both real fiction, giving the reader a pleasant nod of recognition when stumbled upon.

The Icing: There are pictures. There are photographs. There are reports, receipts, notes on scraps of paper, website threads…and so on. This brilliant device just makes the book incredibly fun and engaging. Like Encyclopedia Brown for adults. I read it in book form, but apparently, if you read it in e-form you can download a “Decoder app” to get extra content with images and audio secrets.

I don’t think you should wait for a special occasion to treat yourself to this one, but if your nightstand is overflowing, Night Film would be a great book to have for the long days of winter to come. It’s nice and long. Maybe if you stick your nose in it in mid February, you’ll look up to find some spring sun on the way in March.

Happy reading!


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