Last Night in Montreal

cover of last night in montreal by emily st. john mandelI discovered this astonishing debut by Emily St. John Mandel from none other than Nancy Pearl.

Last Night in Montreal begins with a disappearance. Eli keeps circling back on the morning that his girlfriend, Lilia, slipped out to get the newspaper and never came back. But then, Lilia never stays in one place for long—she just cannot stop leaving. Where has she gone this time, why does she keep leaving and can Eli find her again?

When Lilia was 7, her father abducted her and her life on the road began. They lived out of their car, driving from motel to motel, eating at diner after diner, trying not the be found. Lilia grew up changing names and identities, and as an adult cannot stop trying to erase her own trail.

Eli is captivated by Lilia’s story and by Lilia herself. One thing he loves about Lilia is that she is as captivated by the thesis he is working on as he is. And his thesis is also about disappearing—disappearing languages, that is:

A language disappears, on average, every ten days. Last speakers die, words slip into memory, linguists struggle to preserve the remains. What every language comes down to, at the end, is one last speaker….How much loss can be carried in a single human frame? Their last words hold entire civilizations.

Then there is the Canadian detective, Christopher, who has become obsessed with Lilia’s case and with following her even as he neglects his own daughter. He carries with him a page ripped from a Bible that she scribbled these words on as a child, something she kept writing variations of over and over in other hotel Bibles:

Stop looking for me. I’m not missing; I do not want to be found. I wish to remain vanishing. I don’t want to go home.–Lilia

Last Night in Montreal seduces you with its language, with its layered images and ideas, with its mysteries and secrets. Mandel’s debut is romantic and sad, haunting and ultimately so dream-like that when you read the last words you want to escape back into the world and the characters she has created.

I’ll end with the word I started with: astonishing.



About the Author:

Misha Stone is a readers' advisory librarian with The Seattle Public Library. Follow her on Twitter at @ahsimlibrarian.

2 Comments on "Last Night in Montreal"

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  1.' nancy pearl says:

    So glad you loved it as much as I did. Now you have to read her newest novel – The Singer’s Gun. Fabulous.

  2. misha says:

    I can’t wait! Thanks, Nancy!

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