Elevate Difference

Last Night in Montreal

Emily St. John Mandel’s premier novel, Last Night in Montreal, is a cocktail of neurotic travel, obsession, and misunderstandings. As a child, Lilia Albert’s father abducted her and crossed the Canadian-American border, taking her away from her mother and half-brother. Once in America, they never live in one city for too long for fear of being caught by the police. Most of Lilia’s childhood takes place in a series of road trips, aliases, and motel rooms. Years later, as a young adult and after being on the road for so long, Lila has no idea how to stay in one place. She lives a suitcase-life and constantly leaves cities, jobs, and lovers behind. 

The novel, like memories, goes back and forth between the past and present; although Lilia is the center, we also learn how others have been affected by her life. Her mother appears on Canadian TV outlets, crying over her missing child. The PI on her case, who has little luck confronting his own domestic issues, becomes obsessed with her and loses touch with his own daughter. Her ex-boyfriend Eli doesn’t understand why she abandoned him and instead of sorting his own issues out, chases after her in Montreal. The characters in St. John Mandel’s book are people who don’t understand one another, but more importantly, they don’t understand themselves. 

Last Night in Montreal isn’t the most remarkable piece of fiction, but it is still a very good, fast read. The writing is fluid, and the story kept my interest for long enough. With novels today having so many ridiculously melodramatic and hypocritical characters, it was refreshing to read about people that are normal yet dysfunctional, intelligent yet confused—in other words, they’re just like most of us out there. 

Written by: Farhana Uddin, April 22nd 2009

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