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 discerning 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 really hope to pick Last Night in Montreal for either our June 2009 selection or for our BreakOut Fiction 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.