Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Copyright 2009
Unbridled Books - Fiction/General
247 pages

"All I can do is talk about writing, theorize about writing, but I can't take the leap. I can't just write. But I still call myself a writer What the hell do you call that if not somehow fraudulent?"

"And the rest of us?" asked Genevieve dangerously. She hadn't painted anything in a while.

Eli realized he was about to step on a land mine, and retreated. "Sorry, I'm rambling. Ignore me," he said.

Eli studies dying languages and has been working on his thesis for so many years that his school didn't bother to call him after the latest deadline passed. When he spotted Lilia in a coffee house and sat down with her, he was surprised to finally find someone who found his obscure pursuit interesting, someone he could talk to. She always has left him feeling a little uncomfortable, though. He talks about doing things; she has done them.

Lilia has spent her life disappearing. Awakened by her father in the middle of the night, when she was 7 years old, she walked down the stairs of her mother's house, out into the snow and into her father's arms. They drove away and kept driving, pursued by police and private detectives for so many years that Lilia has no idea how to stay still.

When Lilia kisses Eli on the head and tells him she's going for the newspaper, he's so immersed in his work that he doesn't noticed the few nuances that should clue him in to the fact that Lilia is leaving him. It's only hours later that he realizes she's gone and decides he must follow her. But, where? Eli doesn't know where to go until a postcard from a woman named Michaela arrives after a frustrating week. Michaela says Lilia is in Montreal and asks him to meet her.

Ignoring the warnings of his friend, Thomas, Eli hurriedly heads north. In the bitter cold of Montreal, Eli meets Michaela and slowly learns about her past and how it is intertwined with Lilia's childhood, how her detective father was hired to find Lilia and became obsessed, and the tragedies caused by that obsession. Still dangling is the mystery of why Lilia's father took her away.

Till the final pages of the novel, the reader is given little hints and it's a bit like trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together but finding that someone has removed a third of the pieces and is returning them bit by bit until the last piece falls into place at the end of the story, when things become clear and then there is a jaw-dropping bit of action. That hint of mystery made the pages fly.

There were little things that I had figured out in advance, but still . . . it's jaw-dropping. Last Night in Montreal is an incredible piece of writing, at once subtle and complex, perfectly paced and strung with little pearls of lovely writing that stop you in your tracks.

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. . . . With this in mind, he returned reluctantly to the chase; a particular sentence had gotten all coiled up on him, and he spent an uneasy half hour trying to untangle the wiring and making a valiant effort not to dwell on her increasingly gaping absence while several academic points he was trying to clarify got bored and wandered off into the middle distance.

After thirteen hours of travel the train pulled into a shadowy underworld of tracks and cement platforms, three hours behind schedule, and stopped with a monumental hissing of brakes. He got out of the train and stood for a few minutes on the dim platform. He'd had a prolonged disagreement with an imperfectly preserved Amtrak Cafe Car sandwich earlier in the day, and he still felt a little ill.

The theme of this book seems to be that we all need to avoid just skating around the edges of life rather than simply plunging into the icy water and living. I love that.

I should also mention that the cover is my favorite book cover, so far this year. When I first saw a small image of the cover of Last Night in Montreal, I thought I was looking at a crepe with some sort of fruit spilling out. It wasn't till the book arrived that I realized I was looking at a pomegranate. Would you believe I've never seen a pomegranate in real life? Seriously, as far as I know I've never seen one. I've only seen photographs. I feel left out, somehow, but I love the cover image and I think it fits the book quite well.

4.5/5 - a rare, amazing debut. Last Night in Montreal is a fabulous book, well worth owning.

Upcoming giveaway: I'll be giving away 5 copies of if your kid eats this book, everything will still be okay by Lara Zibners, M.D. I just finished reading it, so I'll include a mini review in the contest post. It's just a matter of finding time to fit in the post. I'm heavily scheduled, this week, so I anticipate posting the contest info on Thursday evening. Check back if you have little ones or a baby on the way. I wish I'd had this book when mine were small.

The opposite of reading in Montreal in the winter . . . reading by the pool in Costa Rica. I don't know this guy, but there's nothing I love more than spotting other readers while I'm on vacation.


  1. oh! This one sounds good. Love the photo- wink wink. A reading hunk? I dont care where he is, that is ok by me!

    Cant wait for the giveaway!

  2. Jessica,

    LOL Reading hunk! We thought he was kind of humorous. On the other side of the pool was an older man reading The White Tiger and we chatted a bit. I'm always trying to move this way or that to see what people are reading, when I go somewhere. LOL

    Last Night in Montreal is fabulous. You should read it, but first you should come back on Thursday and sign up for the baby book drawing I'm going to put up because Lord knows you still know nothing after giving birth to two others (Was that strange noise you reaching out to slap me?). :)

  3. I met the author of this book while at BEA this past weekend. Glad to hear that her book is so good. She sure was sweet.

  4. Stephanie,

    Did you grab a copy of her book? If not, you definitely should. It's always nice meeting an author and finding out he or she is a nice person, isn't it?

  5. Caribousmom really liked this too. Might have to check it out!

  6. 3m,

    So did Sandie at Booksiesblog. I haven't read a negative review, yet. Go for it. :)

  7. Wow! How can I possibly work in a bookstore and not know about this book? Sounds like a winner!

    I've had a pomegranate once or twice (as a kid), but they're kind of like cornish game hens and artichokes. Lots of work for not much food. ;)

  8. Les,

    Maybe they don't carry Unbridled Books. UBB is a small indie publisher (I think).

    Oh, that's kind of nice to know. Cornish hens and artichokes are definitely not worth the effort. I love artichokes, though, so I get the canned hearts.

  9. What a great review - you've made me want to read the book. It sounds awesome. I think Unbridled has the best covers out there.

  10. This book sounds wonderful. From here I'm off to amazon. Speaking of pomegrantes - they are one of my favorite foods. Most people are annoyed by the time they take to eat, but that's one of it's benefits. It takes awhile and all the time your hands and mouth are involved. Great food for tv watching.

    I almost forgot the good news I bear - you won a copy of "Bound" over at my blog. Congratulations! If you will just email me your address I'll see that your book gets on its way.

    booklogged AT gmail DOT com

  11. I'm going to come back after I read this. I just started it today and like it already. I just wanted to check out your rating and I see you liked it.

  12. Kathy,

    I agree. I love the Unbridled Covers. Sometimes I just pick up my catalog or go to the website to ogle them.


    Well, that sounds fun, actually. I have no idea how to get ahold of a pomegranate, though. Maybe the Fresh Market carries them, in season. Unfortunately, it's about 55 miles away, so I don't go often . . .

    I won? Cool! I shall write you post haste. Thanks!!!


    I did, indeed. The pages flew. :)

  13. Tell the truth Bookfool, were you more interested in the book or the man. LOL!

    This book sounds awesome. You and Wendy dded another to my TBR.

  14. Anonymous12:36 AM

    I loved this book too. As you said it was like putting a puzzle together. But I'm not too fond of the cover. It doesn't really convey anything to those who haven't read this book. It's too specific to a scene in the book.

  15. This book sounds right up my ally. Well, one of my many allies I guess. I starred this post on my reader and am going to go to the library to see if they have a copy.

    Thanks for the review and the eye candy *wink*

  16. This one sounds good too! Hmm, like I need more. I'll have to check back tomorrow or thereabouts for your give away. It'll be interesting to see what they say about having a second kiddo. :)

  17. Teddy Rose,

    Apparently, the book because the first thing I did when I loaded this photo was zoom in on the book so that I could read the title. LOL Not that the guy isn't worth zooming in on, but I took the pic for the book.

    Wendy and I get to be guilty together! Fun! :)


    I really loved the sense of those pieces fall into place. As to the cover -- you have a good point, but if you were to go solely by the weight of the subject matter, you'd probably end up with a man and child in a car or something else to do with traveling and that would be a little trite, wouldn't it? It doesn't bother me that the cover refers to a specific scene, simply because I like the graphic nature of the cover. It's a grabber, in my opinion.

  18. Nikki,

    The book has just been released and Unbridled Books is an indie publisher (I think!) so you might have trouble finding it the library immediately. You'll probably have to request a copy if you don't locate it.

    Heh. You're welcome. :)


    It's a good one. As to the "second baby" comment -- she doesn't say much about a second child, except in regard to safety. Meaning, if you have an older child, you may have the added problem that he'll leave a dangerous toy near the baby or stick a lego up the little one's nose. It's all about babies, head to toe, when to call the doctor, when not to, when to call 911 -- up to the point that they're able to toddle and stick things in various body parts (what's dangerous, what's not).

    She talks about fevers -- what age temperature matters and after that age how all the doctor will care about is how the child acts after you've lowered his or her fever. I learned some new things and certainly one tidbit that might have saved me a bit of angst during our one baby crisis.

  19. This looks like a fantastic read! I have it on my TBR list. I am glad you enjoyed it so much!

  20. Rebecca,

    I really enjoyed Last Night in Montreal. And, I just asked Emily when her next book will be out. Spring of 2010. That's not long at all! I can't wait to see what she comes up with, next. :)

  21. I know I added this book to my wishlist after seeing Violet's review and now I'll be sure to actually remember it when I'm next at the bookstore.

  22. Care,

    I try to be helpful, that way. :)

  23. Sounds like it would be right up my alley, especially the language studying part.

    My grandmother introduced me to pomegranates when I was little. I used to sit for hours picking the little fruit/seeds out. My grandmother was a genius now that I think about it - all that time I was eating the pomegranates was time I wasn't driving her crazy or getting into trouble. :)

  24. Alyce,

    Yes, come to think of it, you're right. I'd forgotten that about you.

    Grandmothers have a way of finding clever things to occupy small children!

  25. I've seen this around and not one negative word, so it's been place on my TBR List. I'm glad to see that you really enjoyed it. I also love when a book flies - well, sorta. I like to savor books as well.

  26. Joy,

    It's a really good book. I enjoyed it immensely. I'm really a slow reader, by nature. I like to reread sentences that I like -- in fact, that's part of what makes me slow. If I come across a beautiful sentence, I'll read it three times before moving on (and then mark it with a post-it). But, I also like it if a story has a good flow that makes the pages fly, if that makes sense.

  27. I just reviewed this book (and linked to your review). I enjoyed it too, although I didn't recognize Montreal from her portrayal of it. Your second quote is one of my favourites!

    It's funny that you've never seen a pomegranate! I remember my first introduction to one: I was in grade two in France (we lived there for one year) and a boy in my class brought one in to share with everybody. I loved it!

  28. avisannschild,

    Thanks for linking to my review! I keep forgetting to add links to other reviews.

    I wondered whether Montreal would be recognizable in any way to people who've been there. The setting was really not prominent at all and very limited to that tiny little area where Eli hung out, waiting for Michaela to lead him to Lilia.

    Yep, never have even seen a pomegranate. I feel so sheltered. I like your story. :)


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