Last Night In Montreal – Book Review

lastnightmontreal 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.


To read more about this book, including an excerpt, visit the Unbridled Books website.

emily-mandel-author-photo1 To learn more about Emily St. John Mandel and her work, visit the author’s website.

More reviews of this book:

Feminist Review

The Word Hoarder

Violet Crush

Booksie’s Blog

Passion For The Page

Educating Petunia

She Reads and Reads

Bookfoolery and Babble

Musings of A Bookish Kitty

S. Krishna’s Books

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    • Staci on June 1, 2009 at 17:36

    sounds like a very intense and good read!! Great review!

  1. I’m adding this one to my wish list – sounds like a terrific read!

    • Typ0 on June 1, 2009 at 23:40

    I just added this to my wish list based on your review. Thanks!! 🙂

    • Kristi on June 2, 2009 at 05:51

    I am going to be reading this in the next week! I can’t wait to get it started!

  2. This is the second glowing review I’ve read for this mystery. Wonder if it’s going to be the new “Likeness” and “In the Woods” for the summer. I may have to nominate it to my book group.

    • Teddy on June 2, 2009 at 21:38

    Awesome review Wendy. I wasn’t sure about this one when I read the description but after reading your review, it’s going on to my TBR.

    • Wendy on June 3, 2009 at 06:13

    Staci: It is pretty intense – but so well done!

    Carrie: Hope you’ll enjoy it!

    Typ0: Hope you find it as compelling as I did!

    Kristi: Oh, I’ll look forward to your review 🙂

    Les: I think it would make a terrific book club read…

    Teddy: Thanks 🙂 I think you’d like this one too.

  3. This book seems to be everywhere right now. But it looks really good. I have it on my TBR list. I liked that you mentioned her “ability to fully develop characters”. There’s nothing worse than a book filled with one-dimensional characters.

  4. Great review. I whole heartedly agree.

    • Molly on June 7, 2009 at 07:14

    What an absolutely compelling review! I must admit that the plot of the book did not hook me, but your description of the author’s beautiful writing style has convinced me that I MUST read this debut novel.

    Thank you!

    • Wendy on June 8, 2009 at 05:55

    Rebecca: I completely agree – I hate cardboard characters. I would classify this book as pretty literary in that the characters really drive the plot.

    Petunia: Thanks – glad to hear you also liked this one!

    Molly: Given your literary/teaching background, I think you would really appreciate Mandel’s prose…glad I tempted you to check it out!

    • Wanda on June 18, 2009 at 06:43

    I have to admit that it was the cover of this book that first got my attention: a pomegrant on a broken plate? You just know there’s something heart-wrenching behind that kind of symbolisim! With the added intrigue of the plot and the mention of “achingly beautiful prose”, I can’t wait to read this one!

    Great review, thanks!

  5. I just reviewed this book (and linked to yours). Would you be willing to add my link? It’s I’m also giving away my ARC. I agree, it’s a good book!

    • Wendy on June 20, 2009 at 11:37

    Wanda: Oh, you are so right about the cover. Unbridled has the best covers around. Hope you’ll enjoy the book someday.

    Avisannschild: Got it! Thanks! I updated my links to reviews…and you’re now on there 🙂

  6. Thanks, Wendy!

    • Aths on March 10, 2010 at 09:29

    Nice review!! I’m reading this book over the coming weekend and am pretty excited about it!

    • Wendy on March 12, 2010 at 14:52

    Avis: You’re welcome!

    Aths: Thanks! I can’t wait to hear your thoughts.

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