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April 15, 2024

Last Night In Montreal: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Last Night In Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel.

He was hunting just then, hot on the trail of something obscure, tracking a rare butterfly-like quotation as it fluttered through thickets of dense tropical paragraphs. The chase seemed to require the utmost concentration; still, he couldn't help but think later on that if he'd only glanced up from the work, he might've seen something: a look in her eyes, a foreshadowing of doom, perhaps a train ticket in her hand or the words I'm Leaving You Forever stitched on the front of her coat. - from Last Night In Montreal, page 3 -

Lilia awakens one night when she is seven years old and finds her father waiting for her outside in the snow. She walks out of her home and into his arms. What follows is a life of constant travel -- moving from place to place with the sensation of being hunted, changing identities, and an inability to create lasting relationships. When Lilia meets Eli, a young man studying dead and dying languages in New York City, she knows she will eventually leave him. But when she does just that, the act puts in motion a series of events which will not only change Lilia's life, but the lives of those around her.

Fifteen years later in another country Lilia pressed her forehead against a windowpane in Eli's apartment, looking out at an uncharted landscape of Brooklyn rooftops in the rain, and came to a somewhat unsettling conclusion: she'd been disappearing for so long that she didn't know how to stay. - from Last Night In Montreal, page 9 -

Last Night In Montreal is a novel which intersects the lives of four flawed characters: Lilia, scarred by events she cannot remember but from which she constantly flees; Eli, stuck in one place and unable to move forward until he becomes obsessed with Lilia; Christopher, the private investigator who gives up everything to find a missing child and uncover the mystery of her disappearance; and Michaela, Christopher's daughter who is abandoned by her parents and haunted by a girl she only knows through her father's notes. The mystery surrounding Lilia's abduction serves as the focal point from which the other characters' stories revolve. As they are all drawn into Lilia's life, they are forced to come to terms with their own weaknesses, desires, and fears. Thematically, the story is one about loss, repressed memory, family secrets and identity.

Lilia is a complex character whose life is not her own. She has no recollection of her years before the abduction and seems unable to stop traveling -- a compulsion which allows her to see the world and yet not be a part of it.

She moved over the surface of life the way figure skaters move, fast and choreographed, but she never broke through the ice, she never pierced the surface and descended into those awful beautiful waters, she was never submerged and she never learned to swim in those currents, these current: all the shadows and light and splendorous horrors that make up the riptides of life on earth. - from Last Night In Montreal, page 119 -

Last Night in Montreal is Emily St. John Mandel's first novel, and it is a stunning debut. Told from multiple viewpoints and moving back and forth between the present and past, the book is compulsively readable. Mandel's writing is flawless -- poetic, compelling, and achingly beautiful. Perhaps the strongest aspect of Mandel's prose is her ability to fully develop her characters -- people who are adrift and searching and often in pain, but who attract the reader's empathy and admiration despite their weaknesses.

Last Night In Montreal is one of those books which once started cannot be laid aside. Disturbing and dark at times, it is a novel which will haunt the reader long after it is completed.

Highly recommended.

Four and a half stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-06-08
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