There’s this woman that I know that is always going on about New York City. It’s the greatest place, I need to live there, et cetera et cetera ad nauseum.
Surprisingly, of all the books that I have read about New York, Marisha Pessl’s Night Film best captures the city, not just the sprawling opulence of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel and the gritty underbelly, but the Hamptons, the exurbs, the sense of place and time and feeling of the sprawl and the intimacy that is New York City.
Now, let’s get something out of the way first. Night Film is an addictive read. There’s a section towards the end that is just…well, let’s start at the beginning. I thought that the hero of the story would have been Scott McGrath, a discredited journalist with an ex-wife, that is struggling to stay afloat in the aftermath of a hot tip gone wrong, Scott McGrath, to me at least, strongly resembles Mikael Blomqvist from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which I am sure is coincidental, but gives me the feeling that this book will be a crossover smash. But slowly, the hero is revealed to be…The Big Apple.
If there is a Lisbeth Salander to McGrath’s Blomqvist, then she is found in the apparition that is Nora “Edge” Halliday. Halliday, along with the strangely attractive Hopper, (Salander’s brother, perhaps?) appear early on in McGrath’s investigation of Ashley Cordova, and, despite uneasy living situations, journey on (mostly) throughout.
Nora’s character is fairly representative of the “fresh off the bus” feeling of New York, (and, in fact, in one flashback reveals that she was, in fact, “fresh of the bus”). The subtext of Night Film to me was seen through Nora’s struggles in The City that Never Sleeps: Where to find decent living accommodations? What to do for work? How to feed your appetite, (as well that of a parakeet named Septimus?) Nora was the beating heart of the novel, representing the search to find self-hood in a place that chews ’em up and spits ’em out. Her interactions with Scott, the narrator, are touching, though I would have liked to have seen Nora really make it in the city in a non-comedic way. Receiving the part of a “Bernarda” in a gender-bending “Hamlette” did not quite resolve her character for me, and I feel like she lacked the rough edges of a Lisbeth Salander, and wanted to see her be an integral part of solving the investigation. Night Film works best when this unlikely trip traverse New York City, looking for clues into the mystery of Ashley Cordova’s mysterious death. But at crucial times, Nora, along with Hopper, disappear, and McGrath has to go at it alone. At those times, I wished that Nora’s perspective was provided. What was this nineteen-year-old girl thinking, feeling, observing?
New York city shines in this novel, for all of properties, positive and negative, within and without. So therefore, it is disappointing that the final confrontation takes place…well…outside of New York. In fact, the final scene is reminiscent of Blomqvist travelling to Australia to…(I might have said too much already). (Also, Ashley Cordova’s mysterious reveal is a bit Horn-y, if you get to the top of the Hill, Joe).
Night Film incorporates multimedia, with which I was totally fine. The pacing was incredibly quick, and the term “Night Film” is mentioned just once, but at the perfect moment. This book is recommended to horror film aficionados, mystery lovers, Tattoo enthusiasts, (both kinds), but above all, to those that enjoy reading about the central figure of this book, the city of New York.