Night Film – Marisha Pessl

I’ve been meaning to review Marisha Pessl’s physical book genre-bending novel Night Film for quite some time. Easily one of the best books I read in 2013, it’s not quite as much a book as it is an experiment in storytelling. It blends the Internet, mobile-phone era, and the traditional book into one tidy package. It’s very hard to describe the full experience of Night Film without photographs which do a far better job of explaining this book than I ever could with words alone.

Let’s look at the design of the book itself. It’s a beautifully designed book from the binding to the endpapers. The endsheets depicts a very well chosen image intended to provoke a sense of fear, despair, and turmoil, emotions perfectly in tune with the subject matter within this book. Even the tinted coloring used for the photograph adds to the “mood”.

The endpapers set a great tone for the rest of the book. The book opens up to a facsimile of the Internet website design of the New York Times at a certain point in time (fortunately, it’s a relatively clean design that translates well to the printed page). But the website design will certainly change (or heaven forbid, the Times folds) – so this becomes quite the printed artifact representing a small slice of the Internet at a point in time. It’s also using a Macintosh browser window as part of the overall effect:

The death notice of one Ashley Cordova is the underlying plot point of the entire novel itself. The model used in the photographs throughout the books is the same model, and it’s comforting to think that that much care went into the design and production of this book in its entirety. There are various other web pages peppered throughout that are integral to the book’s story, especially the “main story” early on about Ashley herself, which was done in the style of the Times photo gallery:

Everything that’s put on the page is there for a reason. If you look closely at the photo, there’s a logo that shows up in assorted places throughout the book. This is an essential part of the book’s design, as far as its interactivity elements go.

There’s another logo on the page above – this time in the upper right corner of the right page. Every logo can be scanned in with the Night Film app on your phone. Each page unlocks something different – but all of it is content in some form. There’s additional material to read (several pages worth), audio files, photographs, and more. After I read the entire book, I got caught up in scanning every possible page (not the plain text pages) and there were a couple of “hidden” surprises without logos on them. It’s a great way to give readers additional material without having to print more pages. Unfortunately, this also means that the additional materials cannot be critical to enjoying the book itself – as they will certainly disappear someday down the road. Enjoy this interactivity while you can, and save the digital files if you want to continue to enjoy them later on. The experience of the app is also rather enjoyable as any time you hover your phone over something that unlocks additional material, the phone will vibrate.

That’s how you’ll be able to find “hidden” content like the one unlocked on the page above. I only wish I had already had the app while reading the book the first time through.

Even the pages are perfectly trimmed and printed on quality paper stock, which isn’t always the case lately with trade editions. It truly lifts the bibliophile’s spirits to see books treated as well as this one has been.

The text block itself is well designed and easily readable. It was set in Fairfield (the first font by Rudolph Ruzicka (1883-1978)). I can only wish more books dedicated this much information to the type that it was set in.

On to the actual story itself. A quick rundown is that the legendary and eccentric movie director Stanislas Cordova (the father to the dead Ashley Cordova) has made a series of strange horror movies that are all “banned” and essentially only released underground. A cult of cinephiles follow and study his entire oeuvre in depth. Cordova is also legendarily reclusive and hasn’t been photographed in years. The investigative journalist Scott McGrath wants to find out the truth behind the man and his films, and Night Film tells the story of how McGrath has been spurred on in his journey to find out more about Cordova, despite the costs of doing so.  A superb literary thriller, Night Film is a book you won’t want to put down once you start reading it.

Overall Grade: A
ISBN: 140006788X
Publisher: Random House (August 20, 2013)
Binding: First Edition Hardcover with holographic dustjacket
Page Count: 624

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