LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL
…as described on Unbridled Books Website:
Lilia Albert has been leaving people behind for her entire life. She spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly and changing identities. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop. Haunted by an inability to remember her early childhood, she moves restlessly from city to city, abandoning lovers along with way, possibly still followed by a private detective who has pursued her for years. Then her latest lover follows her from New York to Montreal, determined to learn her secrets and make sure she’s safe. Last Night in Montreal is a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel, the depths and the limits of family bonds, and the nature of obsession. In this extraordinary debut, Emily St. John Mandel casts a powerful spell that captures the reader in a gritty, youthful world—charged with an atmosphere of mystery, promise and foreboding—where small revelations continuously change our understanding of the truth and lead to desperate consequences. Mandel’s characters will resonate with you long after the final page is turned.
Carrie’s Chat with Emily:
Carrie: Emily, who is your biggest fan?
Emily: Probably my mother, on principle.
Carrie: This is your debut novel ~ What inspired you to write LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL?
Emily: I’ve always had a habit of taking notes with ideas for stories, and there was a particular sentence I wrote at least a decade ago: Mirage: you used to see water in the desert. I don’t remember what I was thinking when I wrote it, but the line suggested traveling in the desert by car (the way illusory pools of water form on the highway up ahead), which begged the question of why the travelers had set out in the first place, and the story began from there. Other elements — tight rope walking, private detectives, dead languages, traveling circuses — came together gradually as I was writing the book.
Carrie: Give us an idea what LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL is about without giving too much away.
Emily: The story centers around a young woman named Lilia Albert. Abducted as a small child by her non-custodial parent, Lilia spends her childhood and adolescence traveling constantly. In adulthood, she finds it impossible to stop; haunted by an inability to remember the circumstances surrounding her abduction, she travels compulsively from city to city, leaving people behind. The story follows four people — her boyfriend, Eli, who follows her when she leaves him; Christopher, the private detective who remains obsessed with her case; Michaela, the detective’s daughter, who has the answers that Lilia longs for; and Lilia herself — and the question of why she was abducted in the first place is the mystery that drives the narrative.
Carrie: What is the primary message you’d like your readers to take away from LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL?
Emily: There are a number of themes in this novel — amnesia, the fragility of family, dead languages, love — but I think that if you were to distill all of those things to their essence, it all comes down to an underlying theme of loss.
Carrie: What is your favorite scene in the LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL and why?
Emily: I think my favorite scene in the book is the ending. Without giving away what happens, I feel that the story couldn’t have ended in any other way.
Carrie: What was the most difficult scene to write in LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL? Why?
Emily: I can’t say any of them were particularly easy, but I think the most difficult scene to write was the opening, when Lilia wakes up in her boyfriend Eli’s apartment and leaves him without warning. It took a lot of revisions and rewrites to establish the tone of the novel, introduce the characters, and set up Eli’s sadness without slipping too far into melodrama.
Carrie: Which character do you identify with the most in LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL? How much of yourself did you put into these characters and did you realize you showed up in the book? If so, while you were writing or only afterwards upon review?
Emily: I think that writers inevitably leave traces of themselves in the characters they invent and I’m sure there are elements of my personality in several of the characters in this book. The book is emphatically not autobiographical, and I tried to keep myself out of it as much as possible, but the character I identify with the most is Eli. Eli and I aren’t very much alike, but he’s possibly the most sympathetic one of the lot. He’s trying to do the right thing under difficult circumstances.
Carrie: What are you reading right now?
Emily: In all honesty, nothing — I just finished a great novel called THE BOOK OF NEGROES, by Lawrence Hill (I read the Canadian edition, but I believe it’s being published in the United States as SOMEONE KNOWS MY NAME), and at the moment I’m feverishly revising my second novel instead of starting a new book.
Carrie: Who are your favorite authors and who influenced your writing?
Emily: Vladimir Nabokov, Milan Kundera, Norman Mailer, Julio Cortazar, Michael Ondaatje, J.D. Salinger, and Saul Bellow are among my favourite writers, and I think they’ve had some influence on my work.
Carrie: Can you offer a glimpse into your “real life” and share with us a bit of your personal life—Outside of writing, what’s important to you?
Emily: Real life ~ I live with my husband and two cats in Brooklyn, and I work part-time as an administrator at a university in Manhattan. The cats were rescued as kittens and they each have one eye; Ralph has a right eye, and Louie has a left. As for hobbies, I like to take photographs, play the piano, and go for long walks through Brooklyn.
Carrie: Tell us something surprising about you and/or something very few people know about you.
Emily: A lot of people know that I don’t have a college degree, but far fewer are aware that I don’t have a high school diploma either.
Carrie: What has been one of your biggest struggles and/or successes (professional/personal) and what have you learned from it?
Emily: I think of the sale of my first novel as my greatest professional success. The experience of working with my editor has had an enormous impact on my work. I’ve learned a lot about attention to detail.
Carrie: Have you ever had a nickname? If so, please tell us about it.
Emily: I have a nickname, but it’s a secret.
Carrie: What was the best advice you’ve ever received—do you follow it?
Emily: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I fail occasionally, but I try to follow it.
Carrie: What is your favorite literary turn-of-phrase?
Emily: There’s a quote from ALICE IN WONDERLAND that I write on the first page of all my notebooks, in an effort to discourage snooping: “‘If everyone minded their own business,’ said the Duchess in a hoarse growl, ‘the world would go round a deal faster than it does.'”
Carrie: What did you learn about yourself while writing LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL that you may not have expected?
Emily: I hope this doesn’t sound obvious or as if I’m glibly dodging the question, but I learned that I can write a book–which was by no means clear to me when I first started writing it.
Carrie: What’s next for you?
Emily: I’m delighted to report that I’ve just sold my second novel to Unbridled Books for publication in Spring 2010. The title is THE SINGER’S GUN. I’m absolutely thrilled to be working with Unbridled on another project.
An excerpt of LAST NIGHT IN MONTREAL’s Chapter One:
He told himself to stay calm, and realized in the telling that he’d been waiting for this moment. He told himself that she’d just been distracted by a bookstore. It was entirely possible. Alternatively, she liked trains: at this moment she could be halfway back from Coney Island, taking pictures of passengers, unaware of what time it was. With this in mind, he returned reluctantly to the chase; a particular sentence had gotten all coiled up on him, and he spent an uneasy half hour trying to untangle the wiring and making a valiant effort not to dwell on her increasingly gaping absence, while several academic points he was trying to clarify got bored and wandered off into the middle distance. It took some time to coax them back into focus, once the sentence had been mangled beyond all recognition and the final destination of the paragraph worked out. But by the time the paragraph arrived at the station it was five o’clock, she’d left to get the paper before noon, and it seemed unreasonable by this point to think that something wasn’t horribly wrong. He stood up then, conceding defeat, and began to check the apartment. In the washroom nothing was different: her comb was where it had always lived, on the haphazard shelf between the toilet and the sink. Her toothbrush was where she’d left it, beside a silver pair of tweezers on the windowsill. The living area was unchanged. Her towel was lying damply on the bedroom floor. She’d taken her purse, as she always did. But then he glanced at the wall in the bedroom, and his life broke neatly into two parts.
She had a photograph from her childhood, the only photograph of herself that she seemed to own. It was a Polaroid, faded to a milky pallor with sunlight and time: a small girl sits on a stool at a diner counter. A bottle of ketchup is partially obscured by her arm. The waitress, who has a mass of blond curls and pouty lips, leans in close across the countertop. The photographer is the girl’s father; they’ve stopped at a restaurant somewhere in the middle of the continent, having been traveling for some time. A slight sheen to the waitress’s face hints at the immense heat of the afternoon. Lilia said she couldn’t remember which state they were in, but she did remember that it was her twelfth birthday. The picture had been above his bed since the night she’d moved in with him, her one mark on the apartment, thumbtacked above the headboard. But when he looked up that afternoon it had been removed, the thumbtack neatly reinserted into the wall.
Eli knelt down on the floor, but it was a moment or two before he could bring himself to lift an edge of the duvet. Her suitcase was gone from under the bed. Later he was out on the street, walking quickly, but he couldn’t remember how he’d ended up there or how much time had passed since he’d left the apartment. His keys were in his pocket, and he clutched them painfully in the palm of his hand. He was breathing too quickly. He was walking fast through Brooklyn, far too late, circling desperately through the neighborhood in wider and wider spirals, every bookstore, every café, every bodega that he thought might conceivably attract her. The traffic was too loud. The sun was too bright. The streets were haunted with a terrible conspiracy of normalcy, bookstores and cafés and bodegas and clothing stores all carrying on the charade of normal existence, as if a girl hadn’t just walked off the stage and plummeted into the chasm of the orchestra pit.
Click HERE for more of Chapter One, Emily St. John Mandel’s Bio, and MORE!
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Deadline: July 15th, 2009 ~ MIDNIGHT, EDT