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REVIEW: ‘Last Night in Montreal’ marks new voice in literature
Review by BPM Smith

Emily MandelEveryone loves a good road novel. It need not pass from the gritty Francophile streets of Montreal to Arizona’s dust-laden motels, and it doesn’t even need be a linear journey. Just bring us on a trip and let the characters transpose readers into your fictional world. Emily St. John Mandel (pictured left) does that in her debut novel "Last Night in Montreal" (Unbridled Books) and left me anticipating what’s next from this promising young talent.

Last Night protagonist Lilia Albert is like many young people today: Restless, searching, reluctant to commit. But her story’s quite different. Abducted by her estranged father at a young age, she grew up in beat down motels eating take-out pizza, always one step ahead of authorities wanting to return her to her mother in Canada’s most European city.

Memories from various points of view come in brief clips that suggest the disconnected lives of several interesting characters in Last Night.

We follow Lilia’s brother Simon, haunted by her disappearance but wanting her to stay away in a chapter as short as three sentences. Christopher, a detective whose own family is in shambles, hired to reunite Lilia with her mother. The romantic Eli who searches for an adult Lilia in the streets of Montreal. Michaela, who as a child threw coffee mugs at television screens when annoying ads popped on.

Then there’s Lilia. Her childhood gone, she’s gotten a habit of disappearing from cities and lovers -- just as she morphed into the backseat of a car driven by a father who wanted to get away, far away. St. John Mandel tells the story of Lilia and these interconnected characters in crisp, efficient prose that transitions point-of-view so smoothly it’s like riding a ‘74 Cadillac Coup de Ville down an open highway.

Every once in awhile a young novelist makes a debut that’s so startlingly good we finish it and then wonder is this the first warning shot of a promising new voice? Or is this a one-and-out? Emily St. John Mandel opens Last Night with a cryptic line: "No one stays forever." I hope she sticks around long enough for us to see what’s next.

Scale: 5 stars: Incredible!... 4 stars: Excellent... 3 stars: Good... 2 stars: Mediocre... 1 star: Lame!

Rating: 5 stars

For more information about Unbridled Books and its authors check out their website.

BPM Smith is a full-time journalist who is covering the economic Apocalypse by day and slowly putting the final touches on his latest novel "Bistro de Mars" by night -- at the expense of winning the 2009 World Series of Poker. He lives in Oakland, Calif., with a sphinx named Zoey.


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