Monday, July 6, 2009

"Last Night in Montreal"

Emily St. John Mandel was born on the coast of British Columbia, Canada, in 1979. She studied dance at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and lived briefly in Montreal before relocating to New York.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to Last Night in Montreal, her debut novel, and reported the following:
When I was asked if I’d be at all interested in writing about page 69 of Last Night in Montreal, I was a little worried that it might turn out to one of those pages with two words on it (“Part Two”.) But as it happens, that’s page 63, and page 69 really isn’t a bad representation of the book at all. Although I suppose a person could come away from page 69 with the impression that the book has some religious content, when really it doesn’t; it’s just that there’s a character who writes messages in bibles.

By way of background, Last Night in Montreal tells the interlinked stories of several people, including Lilia, who was abducted as a child by her father, and Christopher, the private detective who becomes obsessed with her case. After the abduction Lilia and her father travel constantly to avoid detection, and Lilia develops a habit of leaving anonymous messages in motel room bibles along the way. At the age of eight, she writes a message across the 22nd psalm of a Gideon bible in a motel room in Toledo: “Stop looking for me. I’m not missing; I do not want to be found. I wish to remain vanishing. I don’t want to go home.”

The bible eventually falls into the hands of Christopher, the private detective who’s recently agreed to take on her case. Page 69 catches him at the moment when his obsession begins. He’s lying in bed late at night, unable to sleep, reading a book and listening to his wife moving restlessly around the house. A colleague gave him the bible with the child’s message written in it earlier that day, and he can’t stop thinking about it; it’s lying now on his bedside table. From page 69:

Something was bothering him; he put the book down on the bedside table and picked up the Bible again. The child’s handwriting obscured part of the Twenty-second Psalm. He read the psalm aloud once, and then recited the first two stanzas by memory to the plaster ceiling: “Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.”

He heard his wife turn the volume of the radio up somewhere far away in the house, as if she was hoping to drown him out, but realized that she couldn’t possibly have heard him. The radio was abstract from this distance, soft static and inaudible voices. He glanced at the bedside clock; it was three-forty-five in the morning.

“If you don’t want to be rescued,” Christopher said aloud to the ceiling, “then why the Twenty-second Psalm?”
Read an excerpt from Last Night in Montreal, and learn more about the book and author at Emily St. John Mandel's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue