Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Title: Last Night in Montreal
Author: Emily St. John Mandel Publisher: Unbridled Books (June 2, 2009)
256 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Lilia is constantly running away, leaving behind places and people. She simply cannot make herself stay at one place; she has to keep moving. When the book opens, it’s Lilia’s last day with Eli in Brooklyn, her current boyfriend. Only Eli doesn’t know that. After the first chapter Lilia kind of disappears from the book only to appear at the end. The rest of the book is about Eli’s search for her and about Lilia’s past.

When Lilia was 7 years old, she was kidnapped by her father from her mother’s house on a snow covered night. Lilia and her father keep traveling from one place to another for the fear of getting caught by the police. Lilia is still traveling when she is 15 years old. She has got used to this life. She has blocked out her past before her kidnapping and is quite happy the way she is. Lilia knows that her mother is searching for her, but she does not want to be found. She leaves a note in the bibles she finds in hotel rooms. She asks everyone to stop searching her and leave her alone.

Christopher is a private investigator her mother has hired to search Lilia. He gets so involved in Lilia’s case that he follows them for months leaving behind his crumbling marriage and his daughter who is more or less the same age as Lilia.

Eli reaches Montreal when he receives a note from someone named Michaela saying that Lilia is in Montreal and to come and get her as soon as possible.

For me this book was like a puzzle. Who was Michaela and how does she know Lilia? Why does she write to Eli? What happens to the detective? Does Eli find Lilia? Why does Lilia’s father kidnap her? And finally, will Lilia will ever be able to stop traveling and settle down?

This book had so many layers and emotions that it’s difficult to describe what exactly this book is about. All I can say is that I loved it. There is Eli who wants to find his love, Michaela who wants some answers and then there is the private investigator who watches his family fall apart in front of him but does not do anything about it. The writing is beautiful. For the sake of the review I was thinking about which sentences I should copy here. But then if I open to any page I am sure I will find something that I love. So I opened a random page and here it is. Something for you to see how beautiful and evocative the writing is.

He stopped at a Don’t walk signal somewhere deep into Chinatown, waiting for the direction of traffic to change. A bottle had been smashed in the gutter. He stood staring at it for a while, the mesmerizing sparkle of broken glass. A van paused a beat too long in the intersection and was attacked by a blaring cacophony of car horns. The sound brought tears to his eyes. He stood on the corner while passersby streamed around him like ghosts and lights changed from green to red to yellow to green again and the stream of traffic before him continued unchecked. He looked down and flecks of glass on the pavement sparkled, like crystal, like ice, tears blurring the pinpoints of light. It was a long time before he could force himself into motion. (Quoted from an ARC)

I do have a complaint though. There was constant switch between places, characters and time in-between chapters. Every chapter was a leap in some way. If in one, Eli was searching for Lilia in the present, the next chapter is when Lilia is say 10 years old. The only problem I found with this approach is that it made the novel very easy to put down. But ‘Last night in Montreal’ has some memorable characters and even situations which will stay with long after you turn the last page.

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.

This review was for ijustfinished. Thanks Renee for the book.

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14 thoughts on “Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. I could have stopped reading at your comment: “All I can say is that I loved it” but if you had said it first, I may not have trusted it. Just goes to show that rx to reviews are just as subjective as the review, huh? You picked a good sentence, too. I’m off to goodreads now to tbr this. Thanks! 🙂

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