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. [excerpt from Last Night in Montreal]
Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
Unbridled, 2009 (ARC)
Fiction; 247 pgs
Last Night in Montreal is a rather melancholy tale set in the bitter cold of winter. But the author's writing has a softness to it, a gentleness that takes away the edge without losing any of the suspense or the strength of its message. Emily St. John Mandel has a way with words. Her writing is lyrical and yet simple.
On the outset, this may seem like Lilia's story. Her father kidnapped her when she was 7 years old, and, most of her life, she was on the run, traveling by car from town to town. She has no recollection of her life before her father whisked her away, much less of why her father took her in the first place. Even after her father decided to set down roots, Lilia was unable to stop moving from place to place. She would make friends, sometimes take on lovers, and always she would leave, most often without a word of warning.
It was like that when she left Eli behind in New York. Eli had no idea that the morning he sat working on his long-overdue thesis would be the day she would disappear from his life. She gave no warning. After she left, he felt lost. A postcard from a stranger in Montreal about Lilia spurred him into action. He would go to Montreal to make sure Lilia was okay.
All her life, Lilia had felt as if someone was watching her. And she was not wrong. When police failed to locate her, her mother hired a private investigator to track her down. The detective assigned the case became obsessed with finding Lilia to the detriment of his own family, including his daughter Michaela.
And while this is Lilia's story, it is also the story of Eli, Christopher and Michaela, all of whom are gliding through life, seeking something they aren't quite sure of. There is an underlying desperation within each of the characters, even the outwardly calm Lilia. Lilia has been chasing after her forgotten past while all the while running away from it. Eli feels stuck, living his life but not moving forward. He has been trying to write his thesis for years and continues to work in the same mindless job. Michaela longs for her absent father, jealous and angry of the time he has devoted to finding Lilia, a complete stranger. Michaela was on her own from an early age, her parents absent for much of her life. Christopher's life was spiraling out of control before he took on the search for Lilia and her father. Lilia was someone he could latch onto, an anchor of sorts. She was a distraction that kept him from facing his own problems. Each of these four characters were lost, their paths intersecting--the key, being Lilia.
I was just as mesmerized by Lilia as the other characters were in the book. There was a charm about her that drew people in. She was worldly and ever changing. She seemed to float through life, or as Lilia would say, "ice skate" through it. It is obvious the author took great care in creating the characters. They are vulnerable, and yet each carry within them a strength that keeps them going.
The city of Montreal made a fascinating character all her own. Not to mention it was the perfect setting for the story. Both Michaela and Eli are English speakers in a part of the town where French is the main language. Already feeling unsteady on their feet, they are even more isolated, more alone.
There was only one minor thread in the story that stretched my own suspension of disbelief almost to the breaking point, a part of Michaela's family's history. Eli's wonderment over it made it okay for me though. It is always interesting to me how that happens. If a character acknowledges the doubt I am feeling, however silly I am being, I find it easier to move past it and accept that which I doubted in the first place.
Told in third person, the novel flits back and forth between the past and present and between the characters. The changes are subtle, but I had no difficulty following each of the story threads. This is definitely a book that is more about the process, the journey that falls in between the beginning and the end. While certain aspects of the outcome may not be surprising, the way it comes together was completely unexpected. Last Night in Montreal was a pleasure to read. It was beautiful--poetic even--in writing and profound in scope.
Challenge Commitment Fulfilled: ARC Challenge, New Authors Challenge, 2009 Pub Challenge, What's in a Name Challenge, & Themed Challenge
Be sure to check out this excerpt on the author's website and stop and take a look around the rest of her website. Many thanks to Caitlin with Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this novel and participate in the blog tour.