Edan's Reviews > Last Night in Montreal

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel
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's review
Apr 22, 2009

really liked it

I think this is actually a 3.5 star book for me, but I am rounding up because it's a debut novel and shows the enormous skills of this young writer. I was really impressed with the structure of this book, which balances and braids multiple time frames and places. I read this in a few days and really enjoyed myself--the mystery and secrets build as the story goes on in such a delicious way!

My main critique of the book is that one of the story's main characters, or at the least the character we begin with, Eli, is pretty uninteresting, almost a cipher, and although I thought his research on lost languages was intriguing, I didn't believe that someone would actually be writing a dissertation on this broad of a topic. It felt like an excuse for the writer to talk about something cool--and disappearing languages are so cool--but I think it could have been done in a more subtle manner. Why not have him writing about a specific dipthong or something, and then spread out to the more general topic from there? Overall, I kept coming across other stuff that felt too precious to me (traveling circus, for example), and I felt like Mandel wanted very much for all these ideas to echo the idea of disappearing, of being lost. Don't get me wrong, it was all so fun to read about, but sometimes I wish the author would let go of her grip on the story's themes.

I have the feeling that Eli is supposed to be a cipher, because he really doesn't have any sense of self or identity--but, at the same time, I didn't really care about his plight. I kept thinking, "No wonder your girlfriend ran away from you, you're boring!"

And, another knock against this book--though it's not the author's fault: What is going on with this cover?! It's so terrible. It will hurt sales, and that sucks because this is a novel from such a promising writer! ARGH!

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01/28 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Janet I, too, thought the cover did the book a disservice. (And I like the rest of your review, too.)

Edan Thanks, Janet. I can't wait to read Emily's new book, The Singer's Gun. From Patrick's description of it, it sounds like it's my kind of novel. (And there will be more of Emily's delicious prose!)

Edan Oh, and thank goodness the paperback of Last Night in Montreal is a total redesign. I really like it.

Janet I saw a cover image for the new paperback. So much cooler and intriguing than before--now the cover actually fits with the mood and themes.

Met a few Skylight Books people at Winter Institute!

James I thought the cover was somewhat nice. I know it refers to one particular scene in the book, but it's also a reference to the abduction of Persephone, who had to stay in Hades because she ate some pomegranate seeds.

Edan I can see how it might have been good in theory, but the colors are so bad, and the font is just criminal. Does not do the book justice!

Emily No! Persephone aside, the broken plate/pomegranate image gives the false impression that this book is about domestic strife, that it is centered around the home. Sure, there are several broken homes in it, but what it is really about is transience, about the road being her home more than any place, and more than her father. The original cover does nothing to suggest that. It is much easier to get people to buy it with the paperback design. Though I wish they'd incorporated a pay-phone like I suggested!

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