LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL by Emily St. John Mandel
Mandel's debut novel, which is intense and subtle in equal measure, has left me completely dazzled. Lilia, abducted by her father at the age of seven, grows up to be a wanderer, utterly incapable of forming lasting attachments or understanding the concept of home. When she quietly leaves Eli behind, he traces her to Montreal, where Lilia's past and present collide in one mysterious young woman whose training as a tightrope walker stands in sharp counterpoint to her unbalanced mental state. Ultimately this is a novel about urgency and restraint and about both the tragedies and rewards that we reap when we try to push beyond the limits of meaning and understanding. Mandel resists the temptation to tie all three storylines up too neatly, leaving a couple of them to unravel as they may, and I think we can expect great things from this author in the future.
It's from a small publisher, Unbridled Books, which has been quietly making good books for the reader for I don't know how long, but which came to my attention a little over a year ago when they published Margaret Cezair-Thompson's The Pirate's Daughter. We picked that book for our First Editions Club in December 2007 and now I hope to pick Last Night in Montreal for our June 2009 selection. Ms. Mandel is incredibly young--she looks like she would be carded non-stop for a night out on the town--for having turned out such a fine, sensitive first novel. It's not just the careful details she crafts for each character, it's also what she chooses to leave in shadow, crediting the reader's own imagination, that sets this book apart. I can't wait for the book to be published so that I can put it in the hands of as many readers as possible.
And now for something completely different...
Stephen Fry, Stephen Fry, oh, how I love thee! I was sadly unaware that Mr. Fry had come to America to visit every last state, filming and writing as he went along, and thus was not able to become his fangirl. I've admired his humour for years and now that Harper Collins is publishing the US edition that accompanied the BBC series he filmed, I can enjoy his writing, too. This book won't be published until December 2009, so you'll probably see me mention it from time to time as I dip into it throughout the year. It's tempting to read the book straight through as I started to do, but I think I'll change that. For one thing, one runs the risk of busting a gut, as they might say in my old home state, from too much consecutive laughter. But also because it's nice to have to look forward to (I'm the same way when people give me gift certificates for things--I'll put off using them just so that I can have the pleasure of anticipation). So now I'll apportion perhaps one or two states to read, every few days. It won't last until December, certainly, but it will get me through the dreary, muddy months of what passes for early spring in New England.
On a side note, was anybody else holding dear to the hope that the Harry Potter movie franchise would be casting Fry as Professor Slughorn and Hugh Laurie as Rufus Scrimgeour? Wouldn't it be lovely to see them onscreen (sort of) together again with the super-duper special effects budget that Warner Bros has lavished on HP? Say what you will about the Harry Potter movies (and I've said plenty, believe you me. Although Prisoner of Azkaban was, like Elizabeth Bennet's teeth, tolerable, I suppose), they sure do provide the pleasure of seeing so many of the great actors of our time--Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, (Dame) Maggie Smith, Gary Oldman, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Griffiths, Julie Walters, Michael Gambon, Imelda Staunton, Helena Bonham Carter, Kenneth Brannaugh, Robert Pattinson (heh--just kidding. I was checking to see if you were paying attention!), really the list does go on a bit...
Anyway, the series would have been the richer for my casting preferences but nobody asked me. I find that *that* is increasingly what is wrong with the world today.