My Beach Binge-Read: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

Many of my friends with kids are on spring break this week, which has made me nostalgic for the week I spent at the beach  during my spring break from grad school in March. I’ve included a few photos from our trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast below.

Night Film by Marisha PesslPacking for a week at the beach is complicated, but not because of clothes. Please, I just throw a bunch of t-shirts, swimsuits and flip flops in a bag. But it takes much more thought to pack my trusty straw grass tote with just the right books for a week of reading under a beach umbrella. Yes, I did include a couple of school books and six months’ worth of neglected issues of Writer’s Digest. I finished up Lost Lakewhich was the March She Reads Book Club selection. Still, the book I couldn’t wait to read–that I’d been coveting for almost a year but couldn’t fit it into my list of “required reading”–was Night Film by Marisha Pessl.

Opening Night Film on my iPad e-reader and slipping into the story of this psychological thriller felt like a great indulgence. I couldn’t stop reading the book and completely escaped into its many layers. In one world, the reader follows disgraced journalist Scott McGrath and his young apprentices (reminiscent of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo) as they search for answers to the mysterious death of Ashley Cordova, the daughter of a cult horror film director who has eluded McGrath for years. The other, much darker world is that of the director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

To borrow some jargon from my still-neglected copies of Writer’s Digest, Pessl does an amazing job with her “world-building.” At times while reading Night Film, you feel like you are reading nonfiction because Pessl has devoted so much time to the underground world of Cordova’s horror films and the behind-the-scenes stories of the actors and select few who have orbited the reclusive director. She expounds on the narrative by using fictionalized newspaper articles, photos and transcribed interviews. Pessl even wrote and directed this trailer for Night Film:

As a reader, you feel like you are experiencing life on three parallel planes: your reality that exists outside of Night Film, the “real” world according to the journalist McGrath who is pursuing the story that will either redeem him or ruin him, and the mystical world of the director Cordova who experiences so many horrors in his real life that you can’t differentiate between his life and his films. All of these intricate planes converge and create an atmosphere of unknowing that compels you to read quickly through the more than 600 pages of text.

If you want to geek out even more, you can download a free Night Film decoder app from the author’s website at Using the app, readers can scan select images in the novel to unlock exclusive multimedia content. As I mentioned, I was reading the e-book, so I didn’t take time to explore the multimedia content. I didn’t want to abandon the story but can understand why you would crave more information. I found myself wanting to view some of the films that Pessl described, even though I’m not a fan of horror films and oh, by the way, these films don’t exist!

You can pre-order the paperback edition of Night Film here; the paperback releases on July 1, just in time for your summer beach vacation. This is not a light and fluffy Scooby Doo mystery or typical “beach read,” but people who love smart, haunting thrillers will enjoy the dark Night Film.

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