nerdy girl reads: night film

There’s really no rhyme or reason behind the books I decide to read or review. Some I write about because they’re just SO GOOD I want everyone to love them and some books are so popular, I feel like I’d be missing out if I didn’t throw my two cents out into the interwebs. And most of the time, I can go weeks after reading before finally getting to my review. But some books. Some books become an insidious weed in my brain and I can’t do anything else until I clear it all out here. Night Film is definitely one of those.

night-film

Marisha Pessl’s Night Film was published last year, I believe, and isn’t one of those ultra-popular reads every book club known to man is going to pick up. Mostly because it’s creepy as hell and ridiculously over-the-top in the best possible way. The book follows Scott McGrath, a disgraced investigative journalist who lost all his credibility years earlier when he tried to take down the brilliant, mysterious, and reclusive horror film director, Stanislas Cordova. Cordova’s enigmatic daughter Ashley has apparently committed suicide, but Scott thinks that’s just too convenient. He starts digging deeper into her death with the help of a ragtag team of people who knew Ashley and were the last to ever see her alive. The path they take winds them through mental institutions, voodoo curses, summer camps for wayward teens, a secret internet fan site for the “Cordovites,” foot chases through Manhattan, and, finally, a night or two within the military-fenced walls of The Peak, Cordova’s massive estate (a.k.a., the WORST acid trip ever).

I won’t lie, as far as crime novels or thrillers go, this one is a slow burner. It’s not one to cause obsessive 2 a.m. reading from word one. But what it lacks in initial fire, it makes up for it in spades later on. It is probably one of the most detailed stories I have ever read, fitting since the subject of the investigation is known as a meticulous and exacting creative genius. Cordova is such a great villain! He’s always just out of the picture, hiding in the shadows and pulling all the puppet strings to fit his narrative. Or so Scott believes because actors never talk about their work with him and the secrets all point to dangerous and deadly things happening behind those walls. Pessl truly created an enigma in Cordova – he is in turn evil and magical, brilliant and horrific. And he’s not the only great character. Nora and Hopper, the rest of the ragtag justice league, are so clearly depicted that you really feel their hope and sadness throughout the relentless search for the truth. Usually the characters are my favorite part (in the absence of a love story, obvi) but in Night Film I LOVED the inclusion of fake newspaper and magazine articles and photos and webpages from Scott’s investigation. So brilliant! It was like you got to be detective too and added so much to the narrative.

Ostensibly, Night Film is very simple. It follows pretty classic crime novel moves. But thanks to Pessl’s attention to (and inclusion of) all the details, it gets pretty deep. I found myself thinking about the book long after I would finish reading (and not just in some pretty effed up dreams it made me have), thinking about how in the search for the truth about Cordova, Scott is really searching for how he/you/me/everyone defines “truth.” If you fiercely believe that something is true, it becomes a part of your reality. In the book’s case, Ashley believed she was marked by the devil and Scott believed Cordova was an evil murderer. Were either of these things true? Can you really say they were false? I for one can’t say for certain and it makes me wonder what other “truths” out there are as malleable. Like I said, deep.

I really enjoyed reading Night Film and think it’s perfect for anyone who likes crime mysteries that veer a little to the creepy. Perfect before Halloween! (Just make sure to read the part in The Peak during the daytime!)

Rating: 7, Darn good (Highly recommended book that is well paced and enjoyable with a few flaws.)

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nerdy girl reads: the secret history

As I am often wont to do, once I find an author or series I like, I will read all of them at once in one giant obsessive binge until I finally surface for air and have to face reality again. You say it’s sad and compulsive? Ok, maybe a little. Maybe a lot. It’s not for everyone, and really not advisable for every author. Like Donna Tartt for example. After reading the brilliant, but VERY heavy The Goldfinch, I immediately picked up her other book The Secret History for book club. You guys, she is good. So good. But two straight dark and serious novels does not a happy summer make.

secret-history

The Secret History reminded me a little of the movie The Skulls. Do y’all remember that one? I don’t think it was very good in reality, but pre-teen me loved it. Plus Paul Walker was super hot. And maybe Pacey was in it too? It was about a secret society at one of the Ivies (Yale?). Clearly I paid much more attention to Pacey than to the plot. But I digress. So, our narrator Richard Papen arrives at Hampden College in Vermont straight off the bus from a small town in California and parents who pretty much didn’t want him around. Obviously, he doesn’t quite fit into his prep-school surroundings and therefore, is easily seduced by an elite group of five students – Henry, Francis, Charles, Camila, and Bunny. All Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. But they take him in and Richard gets to live the elite life for awhile, going out to country club lunches and taking long weekends at summer homes. As Richard is drawn in by their flashy friendship, he figures out a secret they share…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. Yeah, you guys. They pretended to be Greek and I guess decided that meant killing someone. Insane right? And that was just the beginning. Things devolve into madness and while I wish there had been some hysteria, instead there’s lots of alcohol abuse and silent mania.

Remember how I said this was a fun summer read?!?

Actually I would love to have read this book now, as the promise of fall is lurking in the wings and school is starting again. This book is intense, there’s no getting around that. It’s not light and fluffy, but it is really a terrific read. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a mystery because well, these super smart kids like to lay out very elaborate plans and it’s easy to figure out the ending, but it is so dramatic and tense that it gives you the same feel. The suspense is slow burning and masterful, reaching several crests before the final few pages leave you racing through each line. Seriously, I dare anyone to stop reading in the middle of the last chapter. It’s impossible. Tartt is so, so good at it. All of it, any of it. Just like in The Goldfinch, she sucks you in with these remarkably well drawn out characters who aren’t really good and aren’t really bad, they just make the decisions they think are best at the time (or in some cases, let others make decisions for them) and then have to punt a lot…as we all must do. I was fascinated and horrified by this semi-secret society (especially Henry, what a strange and complicated and effed up character) and found the book so smart and entertaining. Also, it’s not a million pages long like The Goldfinch. It’s only like, 500.

Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.)