Canadian-born author Emily St. John Mandel established herself as a talent to watch with the release of Last Night in Montreal, a finalist for ForeWord magazine’s Book of the Year Award. Here Mandel crafts an intricate tale about love, loss, and the consequences of seemingly mundane actions.
After being fired from his job, New York journalist Gavin Sasaki reluctantly returns to his hometown of Sebastian, Florida. There Gavin’s world is turned upside down when he learns that his high school girlfriend - who went missing 10 years earlier - had a daughter.
©2012 Emily St. John Mandel (P)2012 Recorded Books
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Its difficult to describe the exact literary genre The Lola Quartet falls under, it lives somewhere in the nexus of literary fiction and crime mystery. As as a character study with a noir flair, it works pretty well, as a crime-mystery I found it somehow underwhelming and anti-climatic.
The Lola Quartet, the 3rd novel by Canadian-born writer Emily St.John-Mandel, with its sultry descriptions of run-down jazz bars, fedoras and trench coats felt definitively like Noir to me.
If you read St. Mantel highly successful 2014 Post-Apocalyptic "Station Eleven", you'd be familiar with her clear appreciation for the fine arts. Her background as a contemporary dancer clearly permeates into her style of writing and the role theater and classical music play in the case of Station Eleven and jazz and music in general in the case of The Lola Quartet.
Gavin Sasaki is a half-Japanese trumpet player, Daniel, the only African-American of the band plays the bass, Sasha is the drummer and Jack, who's perhaps the most talented musician of the group, is a Sax player and plays several other instruments. The 5th main character of the novel is Anna Montgomery, Gavin's girlfriend and Sasha's half-sister.
St. John-Mandel aptly describes how the love for music and their ability to create a unique sound when playing together is the bind that ties these teenagers together. Although I am far from being a virtuoso guitar player, I can relate to that wonderful feeling of connecting with others through music. When you find other players that "get" you sound and style of music and you get theirs, it creates a very special and unique bond.
Fast forward 10 years, the year is 2009, the economy has collapsed and the word is on the brink of another Great Depression. Gavin Sasaki is now in his late twenties, he's a journalist working for the New York Star and seemed to have a promising career ahead of him.
He's been assigned a story about Florida's exotic wildlife problem. For a whole set of reasons, Gavin isn't too excited about returning to his native South Florida, his inability to tolerate Florida's overwhelming heat for one and the estranged relationship he has with his parents, for another.
Upon returning to his hometown and reconnecting with his sister, Eilo now a real estate broker that specializes is foreclosed properties, shows Gavin a picture of a girl that bears an uncanny resemblance to both of them.
Eventually Gavin gets information that lets him to believe that Anna was already pregnant with his child when she mysteriously disappeared during The Lola's Quarter last high school concert. He strongly suspects that the girl Eilo recently spotted at a foreclosed property is indeed his daughter.
As a resident of South Florida, I think that the author's description of our landscape is spot on. She reliably describes Florida's suburban out of control sprawling, our exotic animal pet invasion (with now more than 56 non-native species firmly established in the Sunshine State) and the foreclosure crisis that more than 6 years into it, is far from over.
After finishing his assignment, Gavin returns to New York, only to be fired when his penchant for embellishing stories is painfully exposed. Following this very public humiliation, Gavin goes back to Florida and settles down with Eilo who has offered a job and a place to stay.
Gavin then becomes obsessed with finding Anna and Chloe, the little girl he believes is his daughter. Mandel skilfully peels back the layers to reveal how each member of the quartet became complicit in a series of bad choices.
What Gavin discovers along the way terrifies him. Anna had gotten herself into serious problems with some seriously bad and scary people. As the mystery unfolds Gavin is forced to make some life changing decisions as well as really take a look at himself and decide what to do about his own future.
The author has as clear talent for creating great stories with flawed characters and find a way to humanize them along the way. Although I didn't feel a strong connection with them, The Lola Quarter's beautiful writing, particularly when it relates to music, was good enough to keep me interested through the end.
This is my first audiobook narrated by Morgan Hallett, I enjoyed her performance very much.
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