Posts Tagged ‘Emily St. John Mandel’

Last Night In Montreal was on my list of potential reads for my week off between jobs. I got it with a gift card my former coworkers gave me. I loved Emily St. John Mandel‘s Station Eleven, so I decided to give another of her titles a try, and it arrived before The Scapegoat. It was a really good read, one that reminded me a little of a David Lynch film, and a little of a John le Carré novel.

It’s enough of a mystery that I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but the gist is that Eli, whose thesis deadline passed over a year before the book opens, is struggling to find meaning in his work and life when he meets Lilia, a lovely young woman who like Eli, is interested in languages. Although she tells him about her strange life — she was taken from her mother’s house by her father when she was very young and as an adult, she can’t seem to stay in one place very long — Eli is still shocked when Lilia leaves him. He is bereft, and then a strange postcard arrives directing him to Montreal.

St. John Mandel tells the story as Lilia and Eli see it, and as Christopher, the Montreal detective who has searched for years for Lilia, and his daughter, Michaela, see it. It’s a weird story full of rich details about languages, tightrope walking, and travel. It’s a story about what people will do for love, even hurt others. And it’s a very absorbing book that might keep you awake trying to read a few more pages. I’ve never read anything quite like it.


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I spent a gift card today that my now former co-workers gave me as a going away gift  yesterday — I got a few books that have been on my long term “to read” radar as well as a couple of books I heard about (or heard about the authors) on the most recent episode of The Readers. In the next week I will own (in no particular order; librarians do not, contrary to popular belief, alphabetize everything):

Turtle Diary by Russell Hoban — heard about this years ago and have been meaning to read it; read and loved Linger Awhile recently after finding it at Book & Bar while the Computer Scientist and former Teen the Younger were shopping for records. Also, still haven’t gotten over how thrilling it was to see an exhibit of Russell and Lillian Hoban’s Frances manuscripts at Yale’s Beinecke Library in February, when we visited the former Teen the Elder. Sorry about the glare, there’s glass between me and the manuscript.


Heat Wave by Penelope Lively — have read her memoir, Dancing Fish and Ammonites, her story collection, The Purple Swamp Hen, and her novel How It All Began and enjoyed them all.

The Scapegoat by Daphne Du Maurier — my grandmother introduced me to Du Maurier when I was still a girl, but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything other than Rebecca, and possibly a short story here or there. Must remedy that! I believe it was Simon and Thomas on The Readers who mentioned this one.

Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse — we had another Hesse around here that the former Teen the Younger had to read in high school and probably weeded from their shelves, but I don’t see it. When I heard Thomas and Simon mention this one on the Readers and was intrigued

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel — I loved Station Eleven and again, when I heard Simon and Thomas talk mention that she’s written several other books, I thought to myself that I would keep an eye out for those.

Besides my new purchases, I still have the pile I got at the Five Colleges Book Sale last month:


And two I bought in South Carolina:

The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy, which is set on a fictionalized version of Daufuskie Island, which is very near where my dad lives. I’m confused by this, because the book is called a memoir on the publisher’s page and Pat Conroy’s page, but when I look up Yamacraw, the island in the book, Google redirects me to Daufuskie and uses the word fictionalized. Perhaps that will be clearer when I read it.

The Enchanted Island by Elizabeth von Arnim — for no real reason, other than it was also at the library bookshop where I bought The Water is Wide and it looked interesting, plus had a beautiful cover.

I did a big book re-org when I came home with the pile on the couch, above. I have a number of other choices that came to my attention when I did that . . . but this is probably enough to choose from, for now.

What should I read next?

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Every year I keep my eye out for gift-condition books on the library book sale shelf to put in my family’s stockings for Christmas. This year I gave The Computer Scientist Station Eleven and then a couple of days later, swiped it off his nightstand so I could read it myself.

It is, as so many other reviewers have noted, a terrific book. Unfortunately, I never had a really good long chunk of time to savor it, but even in 15-20 minute dips, I really enjoyed it. The premise, on the off chance you haven’t heard, is that a virulent strain of swine flu wipes out 90% of the population. It arrives in Toronto by plane and in the opening chapters of the book we meet a few residents of that city who are at a performance of King Lear. The famous actor playing Lear has a heart attack; by the time the performers and audience have left the theater the pandemic is already spreading.

The rest of the book is about those people and their family and close friends before and after the pandemic and the subsequent collapse of civilization. Kirsten, a child actor at the time of the collapse who later joins the “Traveling Symphony,” a group of survivors performing classical music and Shakespeare; Jeevan, a former paparazzi & celebrity reporter who was training as a paramedic when the world ended; Arthur, the famous actor playing Lear; Arthur’s best friend Clark. Station Eleven is the title of a comic book Arthur’s first wife Miranda spent years creating, which turns out to be important to Kirsten, and to play a role in the outcome of the story.

Both the characters in Station Eleven and the writing are wonderful. Passages like this abound: “She imagined Clark hanging up the receiver in his office in Manhattan. This was during the final month of the era when it was possible to press a series of buttons on a telephone and speak with someone on the far side of the earth.”

I enjoyed James Howard Kuntsler’s A World Made by Hand a few years ago, but in that book, although there are epidemics, the world has come to a halt primarily because of human heedlessness, greed, mismanagement, and aggression and that’s an undercurrent of the entire novel. In Station Eleven the crux of the story is what St. John Mandel‘s characters are thinking and feeling and doing, what makes them tick before and after the catastrophe. Each of them wonders at some point how they should live, what they should do. Looking at their lives before and their lives after makes the questions that much richer.

One of my favorite things about fiction is that it can provoke us into examining reality differently. When I read something that makes me look around and think, “wow,” because I was deeply in the world of the book, and the contrast with my own world feels a little like waking up, I know I’ve read something good. Station Eleven makes me look around and think, “wow,” even now, twenty-four hours after I finished it.





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