Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel is really a different sort of mystery type novel than I would normally read. However I even hesitate to call it only a mystery because it’s not only that, it’s also a dramatic, emotional kind of heart breaking story. To be honest I wasn’t sure about the book in the beginning but as I kept reading and feeling the emotions of the novel I was dragged into the story and unable to let go until I found out what would eventually happen.
There’s a few characters in this novel but the two I found most intriguing were Lilia and Michaela. Lilia as a child is abducted from her home by her father. She remembers nothing before the night she is taken and she has no idea why she was wearing bandages on her arms. She has completely blocked out the time ‘before’. Lilia and her father are constantly on the run and this is the life that Lilia learns. She doesn’t know what it’s like to have a stable home or go to school or really have anything close to normal. Once she’s grown she still has no idea how to live a normal life, I don’t think she really knows what normal might be. A quote that sticks with me and that Lilia says more than once…
- ‘”I’m not sure I know how to stay, ” Lilia said.’ (pg 209, uncorrected proof, final print version may be different)
So, Lilia goes from place to place and relationship to relationship, leaving behind more than one broken heart and lots of confusion. All along from her childhood to adulthood, she’s had a shadow-a private detective who just couldn’t or wouldn’t give up. This private detective had a daughter Michaela who fell through the cracks while he was busy following Lilia and her father all over. Michaela could never understand why her father was so obsessed with a girl the same age as she was when he had a daughter at home. This caused a lot of trouble in their family to the point where Micheala is left on her own from a young age. Throughout Michaela’s life she seems to constantly be in a battle of her own with Lilia. The effects of her father’s obsession with the case being far reaching.
What I liked was how the author brought together these story lines to an ending that had my heart pounding. I really didn’t see it coming and I think this too is one of the best things about this novel. The way the mystery of Lilia’s previous life is woven through with her life on the run and that of her adult life is very well done. You’re left to constantly wonder what happened to her that was so bad her father felt the need to take her away. What happened in her mind to make her the way she was-never able to settle down. It’s amazing how the events that took place over the years had devastating effects even on the present and not only for one person, but many.
Emily St. John Mandel has a definite way with words. Her writing flows from sentence to sentence, page to page, keeping you mesmerized. That’s the only way I can describe it. Her writing is very descriptive yet very simple. It draws you in and keeps you there. Some more quotes that I liked…
- ‘She opened the window and the air outside was exquisitely cold, the lawn brilliant with snow and moonlight, and beyond the lawn the forest rose up like a wall. Her breath was pale in the frozen air.’ (27, uncorrected copy, final print version may be different)
- ‘She moved over the surface of life the way figure skaters move, fast and choreographed, but she never broke through the ice, she never pierced the surface and descended into those awful beautiful waters, she was never submerged and she never learned to swim in those currents, these currents: all the shadows and light and splendorous horrors that make up the riptides of life on earth.’ (pg 119, uncorrected copy, final print version may be different)
This is Emily St. John Mandel’s debut novel and it’s worth reading. It’s a deep novel, it’s not something you should pick up if you’re looking for just a lazy summer read. This one needs your full attention so that you can really stop and soak it all in. In so many ways it’s a deeply disturbing story but at the same time one I think happens more often than we’d like to think. It makes you wonder what happens in the lives of abducted children who are on the run for years and being tracked. How do they come to terms with what might be a ‘normal life’ when they don’t know what that is? How do they learn to stop running?
Be sure to check out this excerpt on Emily’s website and stop and take a look around the rest of her website here. Many thanks to Caitlin with Unbridled Books for the opportunity to read this novel and participate in the blog tour.