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Last Night in Montreal

Last Night in Montreal

3.8 27
by Emily St. John Mandel

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Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind for her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along with way, possibly still followed by a private


Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind for her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along with way, possibly still followed by a private detective who has pursued her for years. Then her latest lover follows her from New York to Montreal, determined to learn her secrets and make sure she’s safe. Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession.

In this extraordinary debut, Emily St. John Mandel casts a powerful spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world—charged with an atmosphere of mystery, promise and foreboding—where small revelations continuously change our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences. Mandel’s characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A young woman with a habit of running away runs away yet again in Mandel's competent if unremarkable debut. As Eli finishes another grim day of work on his thesis (its topic: dead and dying languages) in his Brooklyn apartment, he realizes his girlfriend, Lilia, never returned after going out for the newspaper that morning. About a month later, Eli gets a postcard from someone named Michaela in Montreal telling him that Lilia is there, so he heads north, leaving (thankfully) his insufferable friends behind to natter on about art without him. His quest is interspersed with flashbacks to Lilia's childhood: her father kidnaps her at age seven from her mother's house, and the two go on the lam. Back in present-day Montreal, Eli meets Michaela, who happens to be the daughter of the detective who years ago worked on Lilia's abduction case, and together they try to fill in the blanks of Lilia's past. While the plot is interesting enough, the prose often feels forced and the characters sometimes amount to accumulations of quirks, whimsies and neuroses. An intriguing idea, but the delivery isn't quite there. (June)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

When Lilia Albert is seven, the father she has not seen in more than a year suddenly appears in the middle of the night and steals her away from her rural Canadian home. She is never again seen by her mother or brother. Instead, her independently wealthy dad moves her from one U.S. city to another, along the way educating her in matters both practical and not. Is he a spurned ex-husband who refuses to accept the court's custody decision? Or is he Lilia's savior, taking her away from something awful? When the novel opens, Lilia is a twentysomething Brooklyn dishwasher living with a disgruntled grad student named Eli Jacobs. When Lilia unceremoniously leaves him-a pattern she's perfected-Eli is bereft. As he obsessively searches for her, the story integrates the viewpoints of private investigator Christopher Graydon and Graydon's neglected daughter, Michaela, who has long resented Lilia's looming presence in her family's life. While the plot is occasionally contrived, the fast pacing and unusual characters make this a compelling first novel. Highly recommended for all contemporary fiction collections.
—Eleanor J. Bader

From the Publisher
“Breathtaking. . . . Simply blew me away.”—Nancy Pearl, NPR, “Morning Edition” 
 “Emily St. John Mandel is astonishing.” —Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers
“Stunning. . . . A brilliant tale of desperation and identity.” —Richmond Review
“Lilia is more or less Newton’s first law of motion personified. . . . [A] knot of a novel.” —The New York Times
“[Mandel’s] writing is pure elegance.” —Patrick DeWitt, author of Sisters Brothers

“[Mandel] is a stunningly beautiful writer whose complex, flawed, and well-drawn characters linger with you.”Sarah McCarry, Tor.com
“The pages fly.” —Paste
Last Night in Montreal is an exciting debut: a thriller, a love story, and a quiet ballad about life's fleeting connections.” —Quill & Quire
“Taut, gripping. . . . The lost souls in this elegantly compelling novel are lost to themselves as much as they are to others.” —Booklist
“Mandel is a terrific writer, so good that even the furthest reaches of her tale make perfect sense.” PopMatters.com
“Shockingly real, and so hard to put down.” Three Guys One Book
“Exquisite. . . . At its heart this book is a mystery, a few mysteries; we wait and we wonder while being charmed by Mandel’s intricate narrative dance.” —Foreword magazine

Product Details

Unbridled Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt


No one stays forever. On the morning of her disappearance Lilia woke early, and lay still for a moment in the bed. It was the last day of October. She slept naked.
Eli was up already, and working on his thesis proposal. While he was typing up the previous day’s research notes he heard the sounds of awakening, the rustling of the duvet, her bare footsteps on the hardwood floor, and she kissed the top of his head very lightly en route to the bathroom—he made an agreeable humming noise but didn’t look up—and the shower started on the other side of the almost-closed door. Steam and the scent of apricot shampoo escaped around the edges. She stayed in the shower for forty-five minutes, but this wasn’t unusual. The day was still unremarkable. Eli glanced up briefly when she emerged from the bathroom. Lilia, naked: pale skin wrapped in a soft white towel, short dark hair wet on her forehead, and she smiled when he met her eyes.

“Good morning,” he said. Smiling back at her. “How did you sleep?” He was already typing again.

She kissed his hair again instead of answering, and left a trail of wet footprints all the way back to the bedroom. He heard her towel fall softly to the bedroom floor and he wanted to go and make love to her just then, but he was immersed so deeply in the work that morning, accomplishing things, and he didn’t want to break the spell. He heard a dresser drawer slide shut in the bedroom.

She came out dressed all in black, as she almost always did, and carrying the three pieces of a plate that had fallen off the bed the night before. The plate was a light shade of blue, and sticky with pomegranate juice. He heard her dropping it into the kitchen garbage can before she wandered past him into the living room. She stood in front of his sofa, running her fingers through her hair to test for dampness, her expression a little blank when he glanced up at her, and it seemed to him later that she’d been considering something, perhaps making up her mind. But then, he played the morning back so many times that the tape was ruined—later it seemed possible that she’d simply been thinking about the weather, and later still he was even willing to consider the possibility that she hadn’t stood in front of the sofa at all—had merely paused there, perhaps, for an instant that the stretched-out reel extended into a moment, a scene, and finally a major plot point.

Later he was certain that the first few playbacks of that last morning were reasonably accurate, but after a few too many nights of lying awake and considering things, the quality began to erode. In retrospect the sequence of events is a little hazy, images running into each other and becoming slightly confused: she’s across the room, she’s kissing him for a third time—and why doesn’t he look up and kiss her? Her last kiss lands on his head—and putting on her shoes; does she kiss him before she puts on her shoes, or afterward? He can’t swear to it one way or the other. Later on he examined his memory for signs until every detail seemed ominous, but eventually he had to conclude that there was nothing strange about her that day. It was a morning like any other, exquisitely ordinary in every respect.

“I’m going for the paper,” she said. The door closed behind her. He heard her clattering footsteps on the stairs.

HE WAS HUNTING just then, deep in the research, hot on the trail of something obscure, tracking a rare butterfly-like quotation as it fluttered through thickets of dense tropical paragraphs. The chase seemed to require the utmost concentration; still, he couldn’t help but think later on that if he’d only glanced up from the work, he might’ve seen something: a look in her eyes, a foreshadowing of doom, perhaps a train ticket in her hand or the words I’m Leaving You Forever stitched on the front of her coat. Something did seem slightly amiss, but he was lost in the excitement of butterfly hunting and ignored it, until later, too late, when somewhere between Andean loanwords and the lost languages of ancient California he happened to glance at the clock. It was afternoon. He was hungry. It had been four and a half hours since she’d gone for the paper, and her watery footprints had evaporated from the floor, and he realized what it was. For the first time he could remember, she hadn’t asked if he wanted a coffee from the deli.

He told himself to stay calm, and realized in the telling that he’d been waiting for this moment. He told himself that she’d just been distracted by a bookstore. It was entirely possible. Alternatively, she liked trains: at this moment she could be halfway back from Coney Island, taking pictures of passengers, unaware of what time it was. With this in mind, he returned reluctantly to the work; a particular sentence had gotten all coiled up on him while he was trying to express something subtle and difficult, and he spent an uneasy half-hour trying to untangle the wiring and making a valiant effort not to dwell on her increasingly gaping absence, while several academic points he was trying to clarify got bored and wandered off into the middle distance. It took some time to coax them back into focus, once the sentence had been mangled beyond all recognition and the final destination of the paragraph worked out. But by the time the paragraph arrived at the station it was five o’clock, she’d left to get the paper before noon, and it no longer seemed unreasonable to think that something had gone horribly wrong.

He rose from the desk, conceding defeat, and began to check the apartment. In the bathroom nothing was different. Her comb was where it had always lived, on the haphazard shelf between the toilet and the sink. Her toothbrush was where she’d left it, beside a silver pair of tweezers on the windowsill. The living area was unchanged. Her towel was lying damply on the bedroom floor. She’d taken her purse, as she always did. But then he glanced at the wall in the bedroom, and his life broke neatly into two parts.
She had a photograph from her childhood, the only photograph of herself that she seemed to own. It was a Polaroid, faded to a milky pallor with sunlight and time: a small girl sits on a stool at a diner counter. A bottle of ketchup is partially obscured by her arm. The waitress, who has a mass of blond curls and pouty lips, leans in close across the countertop. The photographer is the girl’s father. They’ve stopped at a restaurant somewhere in the middle of the continent, having been travelling for some time. A sheen on the waitress’s face hints at the immense heat of the afternoon. Lilia said she couldn’t remember which state they were in, but she did remember that it was her twelfth birthday. The picture had been above his bed since the night she’d moved in with him, her one mark on the apartment, thumbtacked above the headboard. But when he looked up that afternoon it had been removed, the thumbtack neatly reinserted into the wall.

Eli knelt on the floor, and took several deep breaths before he could bring himself to lift an edge of the duvet. Her suitcase was gone from under the bed.

Later he was out on the street, walking quickly, but he couldn’t remember how he’d ended up there or how much time had passed since he’d left the apartment. His keys were in his pocket, and he clutched them painfully in the palm of his hand. He was breathing too quickly. He was walking fast through Brooklyn, far too late, circling desperately through the neighbourhood in wider and wider spirals, every bookstore, every café, every bodega that he thought might conceivably attract her. The traffic was too loud. The sun was too bright. The streets were haunted with a terrible conspiracy of normalcy, bookstores and cafés and bodegas and clothing stores all carrying on the charade of normal existence, as if a girl hadn’t just walked off the stage and plummeted into the chasm of the orchestra pit.

He was well aware that he was too late by hours. Still, he took the subway to Pennsylvania Station and stood there for a while anyway, overexposed in the grey atrium light, more out of a sense of ceremony than with any actual hope: he wanted at least to see her off, even if it had been four or five hours since the departure of her train. He stood still in an endless parade of travellers passing quickly, everyone pulling suitcases, meeting relatives, buying water and tickets and paperbacks for the journey, running late. Penn Station’s ever-present soldiers eyed him disinterestedly from under their berets, hands casual on the barrels of their M-16s.

That night there was a knock on his door, and he was on his feet in an instant, throwing it open, thinking perhaps . . . “Trick or Treat!” said an accompanying mother brightly. She looked at him, started to repeat herself, quickly ushered her charges on to a more promising doorstep. The whole encounter lasted less than a moment (“Come on, kids, I don’t think this nice man has any candy for us . . .”), but it remained seared into his memory nonetheless. Afterward, when the thought of Lilia leaving seeped through him like a chill, he never could shake the image of that hopeful line of trick-or-treaters (from left to right: vampire, ladybug, vampire, ghost) like a mirage on his doorstep, no one older than five, and the smallest one (the vampire on the left) sucking on a yellow lollipop. He recognized her as the little girl from the fourth floor who sometimes threw temper tantrums on the sidewalk. She was three and a half years old, give or take, and she smiled very stickily at him just before he closed the door.

Meet the Author

Emily St. John Mandel was born in British Columbia, Canada. Her most recent novel, Station Eleven, was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller. Her previous novels were Last Night in MontrealThe Singer’s Gun, and The Lola Quartet. She is a staff writer for The Millions, and her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2013and Venice Noir. She lives in New York City with her husband.

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Last Night in Montreal 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 27 reviews.
ChelseaW More than 1 year ago
Lilia Albert has been running away from people and places her entire life. It is a compulsion that has never had any consequences, at least until her latest boyfriend Eli takes to the road and follows her. Adding to the mix are other elements surrounding her long ago kid-napping - the private detective and his daughter, both whom have their own personal obsessions with the case. With alternating chapters between Eli's present and Lilia's past, the reader finds themselves hurtling through snippets in time towards an inevitable tragic ending. Mandel writes with refreshing sadness, the mystery and grief in her heart-wrenching story pulls you in and shows you everything in slow motion. And as you continue reading and learning what Lilia is running from and where she is running to, you will find yourself powerless to stop it. LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL is so full of emotion and history, it is amazing this book doesn't burst at the seams.
debbook More than 1 year ago
Eli doesn't realize that when Lilia leaves his Brooklyn apartment to go get the paper, she has left for good. Not until several hours later when he looks up from his graduate thesis and realizes she has disappeared. Something Lilia has been doing since she was seven years old. Lilia had not seen her father for years until one night, when she is seven, he tosses ice at her window and her home in Montreal. She immediately goes outside into his arms and they leave forever. They never stay anywhere longer than a couple of days, traveling around the US. Lilia writes in each bedside motel bible, unknown to her father variations of this: "I am not missing. Stop searching for me. I wish to remain vanishing. I don't want to go home." Christopher Graydon is the private detective who becomes obsessed with finding her while neglecting his own daughter, Michaela. Lilia ends up in Montreal after leaving Eli and meets up with Michaela who then sends Eli a postcard to come get her. But she refuses to tell Eli where she is until her own agenda is met. my review: I LOVED this book. I thought it was meaningful and compelling. Lilia is a mysterious, tragic figure as is Michaela. Eli is caught up by both of their stories and this makes for a brilliant debut novel. I also found the discussion of Eli's thesis on endangered languages to be very interesting, enough so that I am looking for a book to read more about this. I also found the language laws of Quebec to be fascinating as I was unaware of this. I also love reading books that lead me to other books or interests. But Lilia's story is the driving force that kept me hooked: why did she leave with her father, why did he come get her, why even as an adult can Lilia not stop vanishing? This is another fairly short novel that tells an amazing story in less than 300 pages. Run out and buy this book, I highly recommend it! my rating 5/5
MS-CentralNY More than 1 year ago
I received an uncorrected proof as an early reviewer for this book. I found the flow to be easy and kept my interest. The characters were well developed and the overall mood could have been heavy and dark, but Mandel did a great job at infusing hope and light into a potentially disheartening tale. I think this would translate wonderfully into film.
sandiek More than 1 year ago
As this book opens, Lilia has just disappeared from Eli's life. Without a hint, she has walked out of their life together and moved on. He knows she has left for good because that is her life strategy. Lilia was kidnapped by her father when she was seven, and spent her childhood traveling all over the United States with him, one step ahead of law enforcement. These years of traveling have made her unable to stay anywhere or with anyone for long. Eli is crushed, but a few weeks later, he gets a mysterious postcard from someone named Michaela who tells him that Lilia is now in Montreal. Eli immediately drops everything and goes to Montreal to attempt to find out who Michaela is, and where Lilia is now. It turns out that Michaela is the daughter of the detective who worked on the case of Lilia's kidnapping. He became obsessed and ended up deserting his own daughter and family while attempting to find Lilia. It is difficult for me to believe that Last Night In Montreal is Emily St. John Mandel's debut novel. It is a stunning book, easily one of the best I've read lately. The themes of traveling and inability to commit to a relationship, the lure of just stepping out of one life and starting another, and family secrets and obsessions are written about in a compelling fashion. I highly recommend this book to all readers, and I'm thrilled to have discovered it.
Alan Nelson More than 1 year ago
Astounding. Fast-paced. Unpredictable. Performs a high-wire act of emotions. Unlike anything I've ever read.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Very well-written, liked the authors style of writing. Interesting twists and turns that kept me reading. Was kind of depressing though.
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Ellen Mefford More than 1 year ago
Great story,really drew me in. Check it out!
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