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Last Night in Montreal

by Emily St. John Mandel


Lilia Albert has always been a drifter. When she was seven, her father snuck her out of her mother’s home and she spent the rest of her childhood in a constant commute, driving from one city to the next in a never-ending road trip. When her father fell in love and finally settled down with his new wife, Lilia kept going. Now, as an adult, Lilia seems unable to form permanent attachments to places or people as she wanders from one city to the next. But her latest lover, Eli, isn’t willing to have her simply disappear from his life. When he receives a tip that she’s in Montreal, he follows her there. 


The story drifts about in time as aimlessly as Lilia’s geographic wanderings. There are many flashbacks to her childhood travels and relationships prior to Eli. We also spend a lot of time in the head of Christopher, the detective assigned to find Lilia and bring her home to her mother. He becomes obsessed with her case, abandoning his own family to tail Lilia and her father. He has no intention of bringing her home; Christopher is content to serve as watcher, a witness to Lilia’s existence.  His daughter Michaela, resentful that her dad spends all his time thinking of another girl, is the one who sent the postcard to Eli. As far as she’s concerned, Lilia ruined her life, and she wants some sort of satisfaction for her years of misery.


Last Night in Montreal is interesting. There’s a dreamy quality to the writing, because so many of the characters are forcefully living in the moment. Lilia, especially, has no plans for her future and seems to have little interest in reviewing her past. She works menial jobs – enough to pay rent and keep her fed - but she harbors no real ambitions revealed to the reader beyond a desire to keep moving. Oh, she’s talented. Lilia can speak multiple languages and she loves photography. But I felt like I never got to really know her. She was a ghost, an underdeveloped character with quirks but no depth. The other characters seem flat, too.


The book isn’t really engaging; I always felt rather detached from the characters. That makes sense, since each of the characters are all studies in isolation. Lilia can’t form permanent attachments. Michaela was abandoned by her family and has lived alone ever since. Eli studies dead and dying languages, which leads to trouble when communicating with the living. Christopher throws aside his entire life to watch someone else’s. But for me, it was also a problem. Reading this book is like…viewing footprints in the snow, I think. You can see where the person who left the footprints was going and you can often figure out what they did, but it just isn’t the same as actually seeing the person and interacting with them. 


Last Night in Montreal is beautifully written, with great descriptions that create a very vivid picture, but the oomph that would elevate this book to a favorite just wasn’t there.



To read more about Last Night in Montreal, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Aug. 14th, 2009 02:36 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this one, but I'm sorry you didn't like it as much!
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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