Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind for her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along with way, possibly still followed by a private detective who has pursued her for years. Then her latest lover follows her from New York to Montreal, determined to learn her secrets and make sure she's safe. Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession.
In this extraordinary debut, Emily St. John Mandel casts a powerful spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world--charged with an atmosphere of mystery, promise and foreboding--where small revelations continuously change our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences. Mandel's characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.
A young woman with a habit of running away runs away yet again in Mandel's competent if unremarkable debut. As Eli finishes another grim day of work on his thesis (its topic: dead and dying languages) in his Brooklyn apartment, he realizes his girlfriend, Lilia, never returned after going out for the newspaper that morning. About a month later, Eli gets a postcard from someone named Michaela in Montreal telling him that Lilia is there, so he heads north, leaving (thankfully) his insufferable friends behind to natter on about art without him. His quest is interspersed with flashbacks to Lilia's childhood: her father kidnaps her at age seven from her mother's house, and the two go on the lam. Back in present-day Montreal, Eli meets Michaela, who happens to be the daughter of the detective who years ago worked on Lilia's abduction case, and together they try to fill in the blanks of Lilia's past. While the plot is interesting enough, the prose often feels forced and the characters sometimes amount to accumulations of quirks, whimsies and neuroses. An intriguing idea, but the delivery isn't quite there. (June)
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May 31, 2009
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Excerpt from Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
No one stays forever. On the morning of her disappearance Lilia woke early, and lay still for a moment in the bed. It was the last day of October. She slept naked. Eli heard the sounds of awakening, the rustling of the duvet, her bare footsteps on the hardwood floor, and she kissed the top of his head very lightly en route to the bathroom--he made an agreeable humming noise but didn't look up--and the shower started on the other side of the almost-closed door. She stayed in the shower for forty-five minutes, but this wasn't unusual; the day was still unremarkable. Eli glanced up briefly when she emerged from the bathroom. Lilia, naked: pale skin wrapped in a soft white towel, short dark hair wet on her forehead, and she smiled when he met her eyes. "Good morning," he said. Smiling back at her. "How did you sleep?" He was already typing again. She kissed his hair again instead of answering, and left a trail of wet footprints all the way back to the bedroom. He heard her towel fall softly to the bedroom floor and he wanted to go and make love to her just then; but he was immersed so deeply in the work that morning, accomplishing things, and he didn't want to break the spell. She came out dressed all in black and carrying the three pieces of a plate that had fallen off the bed the night before; it was a light shade of blue, and sticky with pomegranate juice. He heard her dropping it into the kitchen trashcan before she wandered past him into the living room. She stood in front of his sofa, running her fingers through her hair to test for dampness, her expression a little blank when he glanced up at her, and it seemed to him later that she'd been considering something, perhaps making up her mind. But then, he played the morning back so many times that the tape was ruined--later it seemed possible that she'd simply been thinking about the weather.