House of Leaves

Review – Night Film by Marisha Pessl


“‘Anyway,’ he added softly, ‘a man’s ghoulish shadow is not the man.'”  –Night Film, Marisha Pessl

Night Film by Marisha Pessl is a big, bold statement of a book; released at the perfect time, right before Halloween when everyone is craving a scary story told in the dark.  Pessl brings us “a myth, a monster, a mortal man” in Stanislas Cordova, the film producer at the core of the novel.  He’s described as “a crevice, a black hole, an unspecified danger, a relentless outbreak of the unknown in our overexposed world.”  Cordova’s films are outlawed (an inspired copycat killed a girl in imitation of one film), and bootlegged “black tapes” are passed among obsessive Cordovites.  Renegade underground screenings of Cordova’s films take place, and fans flock to a secret website where they post their darkest secrets as well as the most mundane bits Cordova trivia.  The film producer’s beautiful but haunted daughter Ashley commits suicide, and a ragged journalist past his prime, Scott McGrath, decides to look into the death.  McGrath reluctantly picks up a few delightful sidekicks, and they begin to unravel the mystery surrounding Cordova, his family, and his films.

I was originally listening to Night Film as an audiobook, and I realized I must be missing something as at times the narrator seemed to be reading captions from photos and newspaper articles.  I discovered a used copy of Night Film at Diesel Books for $8 (score!) and was glad I did.  The book features photos of Ashley before her death, articles and pictures from the New York Times on Cordova and his films, and other pieces of evidence displayed as they are discovered.  Until they add a .pdf to the audiobook, I’d recommend grabbing an actual copy of the book to avoid missing out on the full story.  There is additional media built around the book, including an app called the Night Film Decoder and Night Film found footage on the web.  I’m sure cynics will see this as too much hype, but I saw it all as a great addition to the story.

Night Film is reminiscent of the post-modern masterpiece House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski and the terrifying European hit Syndrome E by Frack Thilliez. All of these books are built around creepy (and nonexistent) films; in House of Leaves, a documentary about a house with shifting boundaries is studied, and in Syndrome E, a terrifying old film is found and blinds a man who watches it.  I’m not sure why reading imagined documentation is so irresistable and terrifying.  In Night Film, Pessl takes care to blend Cordova and his horrors into our current culture, pointing out details of the films in which fans have found meaning.  This careful interweaving of fiction and reality heightens fear by making stories feel real.  All these imagined dark films are made all the more terrifying by people’s reactions to watching them, which in the real world we just don’t see or experience.  A man begins to lose his mind when reading about the documentary in House of Leaves;  Cordova’s films are “so horrifying, audience members are known to pass out in terror.”

I haven’t read Pessl’s first book, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, even though it was highly praised. It is now at the top of my list of books to get next.  The plot of Night Film is fantastic, but being able to place the looming figure of Cordova believably at the center of our world took some serious writing talent.  Pessl has wit, and displays it Night Film‘s moments of much-needed comic relief.  The Night Film Quotes page on Goodreads is full of memorable gems.  Night Film is the best kind of horror novel, with just the right amount of brains and brawn on board.

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10 Books With Epic Movie Potential

I was inspired by the blog post and ongoing conversation over at A Little Book of Blogs about the best book to film adaptations.  I started thinking about the best (and worst) movies I’ve seen based on books.  I actually started writing a blog post including a list of my faves, but while writing it I realized that most my favorite book-to-movies are pretty obvious (The Shining, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club, Blade Runner, etc.) and have been heavily discussed all over the internets already. This made me begin to think of all the great un-movied books, which are sitting on my shelves and just begging to be made into epic films.

1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

A terrifying documentary analyzed in obsessive detail by a blind man?  A house which seems to be growing extra rooms and hallways?  An addict falling into madness?  How has this not been turned into a bizarre and creative masterpiece of a film?

2.  Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem

This hard-boiled detective novel is set in a twisted, dystopian future where intelligent animals live as (to some degree) equals in human society.  Gun, with Occasional Music is begging to be one of the coolest mystery movies ever made.

3.  The Children’s Hospital by Chris Adrian

The world ends, and who does god save?  The staff and patients of a children’s hospital, which elevates above a flood-filled world.  Angels, plagues, nefarious youth…  All the makings of a great film are included in this book.

4.  The Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French

Tana French is one of the best mystery writers living today, and her books are each vivid tales with their own unusual settings (the woods, a creepy house full of young and attractive youth, abandoned track housing, the rough spot in town).  Her Dublin Murder Squad cops practically step off the page and into the real world.  Great actors and actresses could make each of these parts oozy with emotion and amazing to watch.

5.  Rebecca by Daphne Dumarier

I know, I know.  This classic has already been a movie, a play, a TV series, and an opera (really).  This just means the story is that good, and we are due for a modern remake.

6.  The Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks

This was one of the best books I read last year, and I think this type of complicated antihero tale set against the lush backdrop of Florida would make a painful, powerful, memorable film.

7.  The Delivery Man by Joe McGuiness

Film rights supposedly sold years ago for this glimpse into the world of the young, surprisingly innocent deviants of Las Vegas.

8.  Chanel Bonfire by Wendy Lawless

Wendy Lawless recalls her mother’s sociopathic behavior.  Even though this is a memoir, much of the stuff is hard to believe and definitely worth building a film around.  Chanel Bonfire, the movie, could be the adaptation that Running with Scissors was meant to be.

9.  Oh the Glory of It All by Sean Wilsey

In the same category as Chanel Bonfire, Oh the Glory of It All is Sean Wilsey’s memoir of growing up with an insane San Francisco socialite for a mother.  This is a sprawling book which would need some heavy editing for a film version, but Wilsey’s emotional struggles and process of healing are uniquely relevant to the modern struggle of every adolescent who has been given every opportunity but taken none.

10.  State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

Hidden deep in the rainforest of Brazil, a pharmaceutical company’s research doctor has gone rogue.  A woman is sent to find her.  I’m imagining this as an Apocalypse Now meets Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman.

What books do you think are begging for movie adaptations?