Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

6105964When I found out that The Socratic Salon was going to be discussing Last Night in Montreal, I decided to jump on board. Station Eleven was one of my favourite books last year, and I was curious about her others. This seemed like a good chance to check one out.

The group who participated in the discussion seemed to be divided in their feelings for this book. Some thought is was okay but forgettable, while others really liked it. I was one of the ones who liked it. I thought it was well written with an appealing premise, and that the story unfolded in a way that kept me wondering and putting together the puzzle. Even though I did have most of it figured out before it was revealed, it didn’t seem to take away from my enjoyment of the story.

7598184Lilia can’t remember what it’s like to stay put. For as long as she can remember, she’s been on the move. First with her father, who abducted her when she was 7; then on her own from the age of 16. But, despite the fact that they often felt as though someone was right behind them, she always felt safe.

He’d tell her anything about everything, except Before. He said it wasn’t really that important. He said they had to live in the present. Before was shorthand for the time before he started driving away with her, Before was a front lawn somewhere far to the north. More specifically, Before was her mother.

23589288At 22, she finds herself in New York and in a relationship with Eli. When she leaves him, he doesn’t see it coming. When he looks back on it in his mind over and over again, he can’t think of anything that happened differently that day. But, he can’t help but wonder if there is anything he could have done to stop it.

He tried not to press her for too many details, about her scars or her family or anything else; she’d come from nowhere and seemed to have no past, and it seemed possible, even in the beginning when everything was easy, that the tenuous logic of her existence in his life might collapse under close examination. He didn’t want to know.

She had a specific way of living that seemed to him at once erratic and ritualistic and frequently caused him to wonder about her sanity…

A little while after Lilia has left, Eli gets a mysterious letter from Montreal. Hoping to convince Lilia to come back, he travels to Montreal to follow up on the message, and finds himself playing mind games with Michaela, who seems to know more about Lilia than Lilia does about herself. Will she ever be found? And, will there ever be a time when Lilia feels she can stay in one place?

Other Things I Liked:

  • the relationship between Lilia and her father
  • Simon – I would have liked to know more about him
  • Michaela’s complex, messed-up character
  • Eli’s boyish devotion
  • reading about all the places Lilia had been
  • Eli’s love of dead languages: “What every language comes down to, at the end, is one last speaker. One speaker of a language once shared by thousands or millions, marooned in a sea of Spanish or Mandarin or English. Perhaps loved by many but still profoundly alone; reluctantly fluent in the language of her grandchildren but unable to tell anyone her dreams. How much loss can be carried in a single human frame? Their last words hold entire civilizations.”

25430695Things I wondered about:

  • The detective on her case; he ended up neglecting his own family to trail Lilia – what caused him to be so obsessed, especially when he had a family of his own?
  • What would it be like to spend most of your childhood on the road; to know nothing different? I can’t decide if it would be fun or awful.
  • How deep in our genes is the longing for flight embedded?

One more thing: The book covers in my post are in order of when they came out. Which do you like best, or think best suits the book?

17 thoughts on “Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. Care says:

    It’s been years since I read this so I don’t recall anything other than the feeling of being extremely impressed with the author’s skill AND that the ending was startling. But I don’t remember WHAT the ending was! Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Naomi says:

      So glad to hear you enjoyed it too (even if you can’t remember why)! I’m thinking about trying out another of her books to see if whatever she’s doing right for me is consistent.

  2. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    You already know that I liked this book. I thought it was well written, and like you, I really like Eli’s love of dead languages. That was one of the things that really hooked me at the beginning. I will definitely look for her other books, especially Station Eleven, which I have yet to read.
    I ended up having to purchase the book, and as silly as it sounds, it bothered me a little bit that I had to get the book with the latest cover, which was so obviously designed to remind the reader of Station Eleven. I prefer the second cover, the one with the red bench, because it took me forever to see that the first cover shows a pomegranate, and not a weird chicken leg. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Yes! Even though the dead languages didn’t have a lot to do with the plot, I loved the idea of it and wanted to include it in my review somehow. It wasn’t really necessary for the plot, but I thought it added a lot to the story anyway.
      I felt the same way about the pomegranate – it took me a while to figure out what it was. The cover with the red bench fits the story well, but I think I like the third one best because of the bunny. 🙂
      I’m glad you liked this one, and I’m hoping you will also like Station Eleven! I’m thinking of trying a third one of hers (who knows when I’ll get to it, though).

  3. JacquiWine says:

    I’ve heard so many good thing about this author, and Station Eleven in particular. I’m not sure if SE’s for me, but one of my goddaughter likes the sound of it – I’ll have to see how she gets on. 🙂

  4. Kat says:

    Gosh, I wasn’t aware she’d written anything but Station Eleven (still on my TBR list.) This sounds fascinating and I’ll keep an eye out at the library.

    • Naomi says:

      Station Eleven is her fourth book. Last Night in Montreal is her first. And there are two in between. I have my eye on The Singer’s Gun next.
      Enjoy Station Eleven – it’s so good!

  5. DoingDewey says:

    I loved Station Eleven, so I’d like to give this a try too! I feel like there were some people who didn’t like Station Eleven as well and I’m hoping that having liked that means I’ll be one of the people who enjoys this one 🙂

  6. buriedinprint says:

    She is one of those writers (we’ve discussed this!), whose works I decide I like without reading them, and then suddenly they’ve written tonnes and I’ve not read one yet. The only one I’ve read was Station Eleven, and just earlier this year, but I did love it, and it only confirmed that I love everything she writes. *wry grin* So, I’m sure I will (do?) love this one too! (How interesting that you mention you like his “boyish devotion”. How Gilbert-y. And I realise, now, that that’s something I like too, and likely for the same bookish reason!)

    • Naomi says:

      Maybe he did remind me of Gilbert, although there are many things about him that are very different from Gilbert. But, there did seem to be a boyish innocence about him, which is the same reason it was obvious to me that they couldn’t end up together- he has some more growing up to do first.

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