Night Film - Marisha Pessl

I'm having a hard time deciding whether this book was a good read, or rather infuriating.

Terrific prologue (right now, I could so draw Ashley, ghostly Ashely with her red coat and dark hair), and excellent premise. A suicide that might be murder or yet something else. A reclusive, mysterious film-director who's know to toy not only with his audience's and characters' nerves, but also with his actors'. An investigation that may very well lead the journalist and his acolytes into the deepest darkness, uncovering terrible things nobody could imagine. A mystery that might never be solved, leaving room to many interpretations. Well, that's what I was expecting. And I admit I was really into it, at least until the middle of the book. The snippets from blogs, websites, magazine articles, and so on, were also interesting; such things do work for me, although I know they don't sit well with everyone. I really liked the parts about Cordova and his films, and the creepy, tense atmosphere they wove through the novel. Sure, it drew on many existing movies and real directors, and was more "told" than "shown", but it didn't matter: to me, his work still seemed fascinating, and I can appreciate how the author wove a whole legend around that man, making him come alive.

More alive, in fact, than the actual characters. The investigation went way too smoothly, the witnesses were all too ready to talk, which sure works in my "movie" interpretation, yet should've raised at least McGrath's hackles like there's no tomorrow: he's the one whose job is investigative journalism, he was set up once already, so shouldn't he be more savvy? The characters in general didn't help. For starters, though not uninteresting, I'm not sure Nora and Hopper were really that useful to the plot. Then, several times, I found myself wanting to facepalm over how silly some of their decisions were—exactly the way I'd watch a slasher film and scream "no, you idiot, don't go in that room alone, you're going to get killed!"

McGrath, why, oh, why did you have to bring Sam into Creepy McSinister's shop full of weird, disturbing antiques? And then leave her to play alone in a corner, only occasionally glancing at her? That was catastrophe in the making to the power of ten. Well played.

(show spoiler)

Also, where did Scott find the money to bribe people and keep his nice flat, when he disgraced himself publicly in a very blatant and foolish way, and I wouldn't expect many employers/newspapers/whatever to pay him high wages after that?

The biggest problem, though: feeling like I (the reader) was being taken by the hand and pointed at the most obvious things (obvious for everyone but the characters?). Once I was done reading, I had to accept that going through this story was like seeing the characters being unknowingly cast in their own film, while I, too, was cast in one... Which would have been brilliant, really brilliant, if the ropes hadn't been showing in mine. Two things kept distracting me:
- The use of italics, as annoying as "those words are important!" neon signs put everywhere, and not even useful nor correct. I wanted to believe they were a code of sorts, hinting at something, maybe like some pieces of a puzzle, but I didn't find anything in that regard throughout the text, and I doubt there actually was (if there was, I'll happily stand corrected). I'm sorry for what must seem an awfully trivial matter to some; to me, it was just too much of an eyesore, constantly drawing my attention to that stupid typesetting issue instead of letting me enjoying the story.
- When the plot (or at least the red herring) is about the suicide of a woman whose father is named Stanislas Cordova, and a character mentions "Stanny was always like that", we don't need the narrator to think "she meant Cordova". It's OK, really. We get it. Readers don't like being taken like idiots; moreover, this really doesn't go well with a book that appears to play on more than meets the eye.

I keep thinking the whole narrative could've been so much craftier and wittier without those artifices. That it tried too hard, not to mention the way it piled up too many leads in what ended up a mish-mash, when more subtlety would've worked wonders. It's troubling, because I still feel like I understand what was to be achieved her, what the author wanted to do. I just don't feel the book succeeded in what was, all in all, quite a difficult high-wire exercise.