Monday, May 4, 2015
Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
If you like: leaving * memory * driving
In Last Night in Montreal, Lilia has spent most of her life leaving. As a child, she was abducted in the night from her mother’s home by her father, and has been on the run ever since. Lilia and her father could never stay in one place for long for fear of being caught, and Lilia did not want to be returned to her mother. As time went on, Lilia she did not know how to live life in one place and was always on the verge of leaving. After leaving her boyfriend Eli in New York, she finally returns to Montreal. There her past and her present come crashing together, clarifying the events of her life for her and those in her wake.
For most people staying in one place is easy, but for Lilia it is unfathomable. The snowy night she walked out and never looked back imprinted her soul with a desire to always keep going. She and her father may have been on the run, but it wasn’t an unpleasant existence. Unfortunately, always looking of your shoulder makes learning to trust and relax difficult. For Lilia, she can never shake the feeling of a shadow from her past looming over her. She may not be running away from it, but she certainly is not seeking to embrace it. In some ways, those with wanderlust may find Lilia’s life admirable. She sees the world and meets new people. She is always encountering different points of view, but finding that many aspects of life are comfortably the same from state to state, city to city. The idea of having nothing tying you down, or burdening you on your journey is the epitome of freedom. A life with no strong ties is not a whole life though. Always leaving means never staying and never building a lasting connection. In the end it is this realization that pushes Lilia to return to where she began.
For some, an individual like Lilia is the sort of puzzling enigma that is so entrancing it will leave them marked for life. Lilia has a quiet confidence that allows her to move through her transient life and find connections in each city. She has a string of lovers left behind, each wondering what they could have done differently and what has become of her. As she leaves her late teens and early twenties, the connections she makes are much deeper and when she leaves both parties are left a little more hollow. Unlike those who came before, Eli is not content to be left behind. His journey to find her and say goodbye guides the narrative of Last Night in Montreal. Eli is not the only one searching for Lilia. A private investigator, Christopher, first hired by her mother has been a step behind Lilia for years. As each city passes, he gains an understanding that Lilia doesn’t need a rescuer, and that being away from her home is the best for her. He continues to mark her journey, functions as a passive guardian angel. He follows and watches, ready to act, but not interfering. His daughter, Michaela, is the final individual marked heavily by Lilia’s constant leaving. Though she never knew Lilia before she disappeared, her father’s fascination with another girl her same age has altered the course of Michaela’s life. Living in the shadow of this pseudo-sibling scars her to the core, and eventually she realizes that she too must leave.
If think you might stay, but realize you must go, read Last Night in Montreal.
Mandel, Emily St. John. Last Night in Montreal. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2009. Kindle Edition.