Jun 16, 2009

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel's Last Night in Montreal, a debut novel, reads like sketched notes in a private investigator's notebook. With chapters that alternate between the past and present and a variety of characters, readers will feel like they are investigating a child abduction case, while garnering a better understand of human motives and emotions.

"She'd been disappearing for so long that she didn't know how to stay." (Page 9 of the uncorrected proof)

Lilia Albert is abducted by her father, and as they move around the United States in and out of hotels, her sense of home is vanquished. She no longer knows how to stop and settle into a "normal" life. As an adult she continues to move from place to place, carrying with her the only photograph from her past that she has--a Polaroid of her and a waitress. Lilia is a complex character, her emotions deep below the surface, and she meets a variety of people along the way--Eli, an art gallery salesman working on his thesis; Erica, a girl from Chicago with blue hair; and Michaela, an exotic dancer and part-time tightrope walker from Montreal.

"She came out all dressed in black, as she almost always did, and carrying the three pieces of plate that had fallen off the bed the night before; it was a light shade of blue, and sticky with pomegranate juice." (Page 2 of the uncorrected proof)

Mandel peppers each chapter with just enough description and information to keep the pages turning, as readers strive to uncover the moment when Lilia's life changed and why it changed. But this mystery is more than what happens to Lilia, it's about how an obsession can rip apart a private investigator's family, encourage an ex-lover to step outside his comfort zone, and the myriad ways in which humans react to disturbing events from the past.

"Lilia's childhood memories took place mostly in parks and public libraries and motel rooms, and in a seemingly endless series of cars. Mirage: she used to see water in the desert. In the heat of the day it pooled on the highway, and the horizon broke into shards of white. There was a map folded on the dashboard, but it was fading steadily under the barrage of light; Lilia was supposed to be the navigator but entire states were dissolving into pinkish sepia, the lines of highways fading to gray. The names of certain cities were indistinct now along the fold, all the borders were vanishing." (Page 7 of the uncorrected proof)

Readers will itch to reach the resolution of this abduction case, not only to discover why Lilia's father took her from her mother and brother, but also to see Lilia recover many of her earlier memories settled behind the dust kicked up by her continuous travels. The one minor drawback could be the chapters featuring the private detective and his obsessive pursuit of Lilia and her father even when he no longer desires their capture; these chapters dispel some of the suspense built up in previous chapters. However, Eli, Michaela, and Lilia's story lines twist and mingle throughout the novel, and Mandel does well shifting between points of view. Last Night in Montreal is not a typical mystery, but still satisfying.

About the Author:
Emily St. John Mandel was born on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 1979. She studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York. She lives in Brooklyn.
Check out this video for her book.

If you missed Emily's guest post on Savvy Verse & Wit about her writing space, please check it out, here.

Also Reviewed By:

Violet Crush
Bookfoolery and Babble
Care's Online Book Club

Everyday I Write the Book
She Is Too Fond of Books 
Musings of a Bookish Kitty 


Sandy Nawrot said...

I think I would like this book. I love mysteries, and if the author approaches it differently than the average writer, all the better.

Emily St. J. Mandel said...

Serena, thanks very much -- I really appreciate you taking the time to review my book.

Anna said...

This one sounds interesting. From the passages you posted, I think I'd like her writing.

Diary of an Eccentric

Serena said...

Sandy: It was a good read.

Emily: You are welcome. I enjoyed your book and look forward to the next one.

Anna: I think you would like this book.

bermudaonion said...

Well, I want to know why her father abducted her after reading your review.

Serena said...

bermudaonion: It's a mystery! I think you'd like this one.

Ti said...

Vroman's via Twitter was raving about this book and when I checked out the description I was like, "meh". However, sooo many people have been talking about this one.

Dar said...

Nice review Serena!

softdrink said...

This one is popping up all over the blogosphere...I really want to read it now. And my !@$% library doesn't have it! I see a trip to the bookstore in my future.

lilly said...

This books sounds a little bit like the type Donna Tart writes. And I really like that author so I might have to check this one out as well.

Veens said...

Lovely Review!
this is interesting.. and what a terrible thing to move around so long... that u dnt remember your home!

Toni said...

Great review. I can't wait to read this one. It sounds very interesting. I have been reading reviews on this one all day.

Iliana said...

I've been reading a lot of good reviews about this book. I like the mystery aspect of it so it's on my list!

Care said...

GREAT review! Thanks for linking, too and commenting with the link-back.