Emily St. John Mandel, Last Night in Montreal (2009)

This novel was the first published book by Emily St. John Mandel, and although it is very promising, I can’t say it’s at the same level as her other later novels (which is actually good news for her… imagine if her fist novel was actually better than the next ones). The blurb here says it’s breathtaking, I beg to differ. Boring it is not, but we all now know she’s capable of much better.

The book starts with a young couple living in New York: Eli and Lilia. Eli seems at first to be the main character as we see the action through his eyes, but as his girlfriend disappears one day, one gets to wonder what is Lilia’s story and why she seems unable to settle down in one place, or in one relationship, even if everything was right.

Of course Lilia is mysterious and I wanted to know about her, but I wasn’t fascinated by her… She felt too remote, too unbelievable, a bit random. I won’t spoil anything but much of what happens in the book requires a very strong suspension of disbelief, something that St John Mandel has learnt to dose better in her subsequent books.

As in her other books one of the author’s forte is the ability to juggle multiple chatacters and multiple points of view. The weakness is that the motivation of each of them is not clear or not strong enough. Still, there’s an undeniable atmosphere, especially in Montreal, and the French translation I read let me assume that the writing is as crisp as what I’d enjoyed in the original language.

Even with this book’s weaknesses, I still wish to be a St John Mandel’s completist, preferably in English. My library has a French copy of The Lola Quartet but I think I’m going to get the original version instead.

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