Sunday, November 1, 2015

"Last Night in Montreal," by Emily St. John Mandel

I had never heard of Emily St. John Mandel’s “Last Night in Montreal” (Unbridled Books, 2009) until the recent spate of accolades about Mandel’s newest novel, “Station Eleven, which has received very positive reviews and won, or been a finalist for, several literary prizes and “best of” lists. Because “Station Eleven” is of the postapocalyptic genre, I am not interested in reading it, but a brief mention of this earlier novel, the author’s debut, attracted my attention. It is a sort of mystery (although not of the mystery genre), combined with the story of a young woman’s growing up years. Lilia has been abducted by her father from her mother’s house at the age of six, and spends the next ten years on the road, hiding from the law, with her father. She loves her father and (mainly) does not resent the life they lead. But of course such a life has enormous effects on her. Even when her father finally settles down in one place, Lilia’s life is unmoored, and even on her own, she feels compelled to move on from place to place again and again. A sort of parallel story is that of the private detective, Christopher, who has looked for and followed Lilia for years, and the strange fascination he has developed with the case, to the detriment of his own wife and daughter, Michaela. Christopher and Michaela’s semi-estranged relationship, and Lilia and her father’s attached but unusual relationship, form a sort of contrapuntal interweaving connection. The fifth main character is Eli, Lilia’s boyfriend who she has most recently abandoned in her need to keep moving on, and who goes to search for her in Montreal, where he has been told she is now. There are a lot of missed connections, characters’ outmaneuvering other characters, and delays and frustrations on everyone’s part. Toward the end of the novel there are some revelations that change our perceptions of some of the events in the novel, and to some extent explain some of the characters’ behaviors, in some cases toward a more positive interpretation and in some cases more negative. Despite all the pain and difficulties encountered by all of the characters, there are connections, and there is love. This is an unusual novel, and one that I had trouble with at times, especially when I felt plot revelations were artificially delayed. On the other hand, the writing is strong, and the author’s voice fresh.
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