Tuesday, June 30, 2009

'Last Night in Montreal'

by Emily St. John Mandel
Fiction, 2009
Unbridled Books, e-book, 244 p.
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.
Stop looking for me. I’m not missing; I do not want to be found. I wish to remain vanishing. I don’t want to go home. – Lilia

I’d hoped to review this earlier this month before we moved but it just didn’t work out that way. I was reading Last Night in Montreal while packing and I have to say that I was often reading it instead of packing for those few days. It’s a beautifully written story of loss and obsession that had me quite enraptured. I’m a sucker for emotionally complex, melancholy stories anyway though so this book was right up my alley.

I found the part of the story with Eli in Montreal the most surreal and I felt that the story ever so slightly lost its flow in those chapters, but all the strands came together perfectly at the end. And even though I finished reading this over 3 weeks ago, it has still lingered in my mind. I definitely look forward to reading more by Emily Mandel and am glad to hear that she will have another book out next year. There are already several glowing reviews (see below) which are much more eloquent than mine so I’ll keep this short and simply refer you to them.
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. Something did seem slightly amiss, but he was lost in the excitement of butterfly hunting and ignored it, until later, too late, when somewhere between Andean loanwords and the lost languages of ancient California he happened to glance at the clock. It was afternoon. He was hungry. It had been four and a half hours since she’d gone for the paper, and her watery footsteps had evaporated from the floor, and he realized what it was; for the first time he could remember, she hadn’t asked if he wanted a coffee from the deli. (p. 3)
A side note: Due to the ridiculous prices that the U.S. Postal service charges I received the e-book version of this title. You know that’s not my favourite way to read a book, but it sounded great and I still wanted to give it a try regardless. I can say that despite the format, it was a truly lovely story that was completely worth reading. (I’ve been lusting after this new e-reader but until the day I have some spare cash to spend on one, I’ll just have to dream.)

Final verdict: A wonderful debut by an author to watch.

An interview with Emily Mandel
The Last Night in Montreal music playlist
Emily's working space (Guest post at Savvy Verse & Wit)

For more information about the book, or the author, or to read an excerpt, visit Emily Mandel's website.

Thank you to Caitlin at Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this title.

First sentence: No one stays forever.

Buy this book at: Amazon | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | The Book Depository

My Rating: 4/5
(2nd Canadian Book Challenge, ARC Reading Challenge)

Also reviewed at:
Bookfoolery and Babble
Educating Petunia
S. Krishna's Books
Booksie's Blog
she reads and reads
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Savvy Verse & Wit
Cindy's Love of Books
Peeking Between the Pages
Booking Mama
Violet Crush
If I've missed yours, let me know and I'll link to it here.


  1. I started this the other night, but had to set it aside for Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. I'll get back to it later next week.

    Very cool e-reader! My hubby splurged and bought a Kindle. I'm still on the fence about these toys. I love my books!

  2. Wonderful review of this book - glad you liked it as I did :) And thanks for the link to my review!

  3. This book sounds so good. It is on my TBR. That new e-reader lookis really good too and is much cheaper than the Sony version and Kindle. Not to mention we can't get the Kindle here in Canada.

    Happy Canada Day!

  4. Thank you so much for your wonderful review! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate the kind words.

  5. I can see why reading this book interferred with the packing. :)

    That e-reader is really cool! I'm one of those people who can't see buying a reader, at the current cost. To spend hundreds on a reader and then have to spend nearly as much as the cost of a trade paperback for a download doesn't sit well with me, even though I need to own fewer books.

  6. Nice review. I really enjoyed this book, a surprisingly good first novel I thought. I look forward to her next one.

  7. I am glad you liked this one, Nat. It was a bit surreal, the bits about Eli in Montreal at times, I agree. I definitely plan to look for this author in the future.

    I hope one day you can get that e-reader!

  8. Les - I hope you enjoy Last Night in Montreal when you get back to it. The Kindle is very cool, and I would probably be very tempted if I lived in the US, even though I do have some issues with it. I still love my books too but think it would be nice in situations like for this book where the publisher couldn't send me the actual galley.

    Wendy - It was a lovely read! And you're welcome. :)

    Teddy Rose - The Kindle's not an option for me either but I actually prefer this one because it's not proprietary - it seems to support all sorts of formats and you're not limited to buying from one place ie. Amazon. It's just a dream though for the time being. :)

    Emily St. John Mandel - Thank you for your wonderful book! I'm looking forward to reading your next one.

    Nancy - Yes, it was too easy to forgo the packing and just keep reading. :P
    I know what you mean about the cost. Think of all the books we could buy instead! But it would be nice in situations like this since some publishers aren't able to ship review copies overseas. Not that I really need access to any more books but you know what I mean.

    Sandra - I agree, I thought it was very good for a first novel. I'm looking forward to seeing what she comes out with next.

    Wendy (Literary Feline) - LOL. Just as I hope one day you can finally get an i-pod! ;)

  9. Thanks for linking to my review; I've now linked to yours as well. I agree that the part of the story with Eli in Montreal is the most surreal -- that's a good way of putting it! (It was also my least favourite part of the story.)

  10. Avis - Thanks. I didn't find the part in Montreal quite as engaging but overall it was still a great read! :)


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