Wednesday, August 22, 2018

DNF: Night Film

I wanted to love Night Film, by Marisha Pessl. I'm not sure if my reasons were very pure (The Jennys liked it! It's both scary and highbrow!), but I made it to page 100 (of almost 600) before deciding that I couldn't do it.

I wish I could say that the book is just not for me, but in many ways it is for me.  The narrator is an investigative reporter who has fallen into disgrace due to his weird behavior during an investigation of a reclusive filmmaker.  Now, years later, the filmmaker's daughter is dead of an apparent suicide, and the reporter finds himself looking into the daughter.

This is basically a good and interesting (if overly long) book; I think I would have finished it if it was 400 pages instead of 600. I can list the things that bothered me very precisely, and I tried very hard to put up with them.  But at the rate I was going (that font was small), I was going to spend three or four weeks with this book, and my nitpicks would have driven me bonkers.

Three main problems, from broadest to narrowest.

1) The book really depends on the sense of eeriness that comes from the mysterious filmmaker Cordova.  He never makes public appearances; all of his movies were filmed on his enormous private estate. The movies are so scary that his later ones weren't shown in theaters; there were secret underground (literally, in Paris catacombs) screenings with coded messages about when and where, and people who saw them were never the same again (woo!).

It takes a lot of people to make a movie. And the whole "art so profound it literally drives people mad!" is just too hard to imagine.  I just wasn't convinced by the idea of these movies being supernatural, and if the book wanted to convince me, it needed to show me earlier not just tell.

2) The main character, reporter Scott McGrath, is very much an obnoxious white guy.  If the author had been a man, I would have put it down on page 20 when he comes home 4 hours late without letting the babysitter know, complains about his ex-wife's hobbies, and bullies his way into conversations he wants to have with people who don't want him around.  Because the author's a woman, I gave the book a lot more space, but I only appreciate an unlikable narrator if the book is pretty explicit about the unlikability being deliberate.  While I don't think he's supposed to be likeable, per se, I am not convinced I'm supposed to despise him as much as I do.  (This is very much a "not for me" factor, though; I am very down on entitled men right now.)

3) Finally and possibly most annoyingly, the italics. They are everywhere. Within dialogue or in the narration, any word that's emphasized, even if you would have naturally emphasized in in your head, got the italic treatment anyway.  It was like listening to Holly Golightly talk when she's in prime society girl mode (note that italics are sometimes used to call out phrases, rather than emphasize; still annoying). 

While this is maybe the most shallow of my issues, it's also probably the one that killed me in the end. I think that's because this persistent annoyance in the text really separated my judgement from the author's, which made me not trust her on the other issues.  As I said, I can deal with an unlikable character if I feel like the author and I are in on that together, but the use of italics made me feel antagonistic toward the author--not the narrator, Scott, but the author--and that was the kiss of death.

I might still pick up Special Topics in Calamity Physics to see how different it is and whether I can connect with the author in another context.  But for now, I'm dropping back to something simpler and possibly involving some Crazy Rich Asians.

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