Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Genre: Literary Fiction – Mystery.
Pub. Date: Jan. 1, 2009.
When Lilia Albert was a child, her father appeared on the doorstep of her mother’s house and took her away. Now, haunted by an inability to remember much about her early childhood, Lilia moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers and eluding the private detective who has dedicated a career to following close behind.
Then comes Eli. When Lilia goes out for a paper and fails to return to their Brooklyn apartment, he follows her to Montreal, not knowing whether he wants to disappear, too, or help her find her way home. But what he discovers is a deeper mystery, one that will set past and present spinning toward collision.
Personal Enjoyment: ●●○○○
Writing Quality: ●●●●○
After finishing Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven (video review), one of my favorite books of 2014, I purchased her other three novels to read when I missed her writing too much. At the same time, I was wary– it’s difficult working backwards through an author’s works because I’m constantly comparing the older books to newer, more polished and experienced works. Emily St. John Mandel writes like a dream, and she has a way of weaving together multiple timelines and points of view in a seamless fashion. In both Station Eleven and Last Night in Montreal, she introduces both interconnected characters as well as meaningful objects that emerge in different ways across time and space. Her stories feel very deliberate and very purposeful.
However, Last Night in Montreal was not without its rough edges which were nowhere in sight with the very polished Station Eleven. This book fluctuated between instances of very vague dialogue meant to manufacture mystery or complexity, and the very natural building of suspense and desire to know not only what happens next, but also what happened before.
Lilia was such an interesting character, distant yet relatable (and I’m not just saying that because she’s bisexual). We see present-day Lilia only at the beginning and the end, but the rest of her story is told through memories of the past, where she came from, how she grew up, and what she has forgotten. The more paranoid and anxious Lilia felt in the novel, the more paranoid and anxious I felt while reading. Very early on in the book I found myself thinking, “Stay lost, stay lost, I don’t want you to be found.”
Of course, that might have had something to do with my loss of sympathy for Eli, Lilia’s boyfriend who follows her to Montreal. There’s a weird lull in the middle of the book where nothing happens and everyone in the present-day timeline is at a standstill. During this time, Eli meets Michaela, the daughter of the detective who was assigned to Lilia’s case when she went missing as a child. Michaela strikes quite the tragic character– physically, mentally, emotionally, she’s obviously very unwell. But in spite of all the time Eli spends with her, he very obviously doesn’t care about her as a person. There is a good 100 pages of this ~250 page novel where I felt Michaela reaching out for a friend, for someone to care, but Eli was totally un-empathetic. I really didn’t want self-absorbed, mopey Eli to find Lilia again. He didn’t deserve a happy ending and I found myself totally unsatisfied with his character as a whole.
As for endings, I think most characters’ storylines resolved either too happily or not at all. Most characters had expressed motivations or personality traits throughout the story that didn’t quite match up with where they were by the end of the book. Though the end of the novel still managed to pack quite a punch, I remained ultimately unconvinced by the paths they chose.
I think this book was interesting in the same way that reading a first draft compared to a final draft of a book would be interesting. It wasn’t my favorite story, but I would still recommend it to those who would be interested in a more adult version of John Green’s Paper Towns.