I almost finished this book standing at a subway station even though I had somewhere to be. Trust me, I tried. I stood in the station for 20 minutes reading before I could tear myself away and get on with my tasks. I finished it as soon as I could when I got home and I just sat there for a while after I was done, feeling the impact of the book. It tugged at my heartstrings. With The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, Heather O’Neill has created a strong group of sympathetic characters and touches poignantly on the most basic human need: love. What would we do to receive love and acceptance? How far would we go to avoid heartbreak?
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is narrated by Nouschka Tremblay, one half of the famous Tremblay twins. Their father, Étienne Tremblay, is a famous Quebecois folksinger, though no one knows his name outside of Quebec. He spends most of his children’s lives away from them, trying to recreate his glory days. Their mother, a teenage parent, left them when they were young. Noushka and her twin brother Nicolas were raised mostly by their grandfather Loulou and they spend much of the book lost, reveling in their youth, feeling infallible, and making questionable decisions.
All of the characters in the book are striving to fit in and find their place in their own way. Nicolas and Nouschka have been wasting away their youth and potential for years. Everything they do is guided by their desire to feel loved by their parents and they spend the whole novel trying to find that parental guidance and comfort. Étienne, now a has-been, is desperately trying to stay relevant and regain Quebec’s love yet he constantly misses the mark. Even Quebec is trying to find its identity; its relationship with the rest of Canada and the separatist movement plays in the background throughout the whole novel.
Even though The Girl Who Was Saturday Night touches on intimate and difficult subjects, it also has humorous and hopeful undertones. I found this refreshing as even though I liked reading O’Neill’s previous novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, I found it to be a bit sad and frustrating to read at times. In contrast, it feels like there is hope throughout this novel that the Tremblay family can get everything together and live happily and harmoniously. As a reader, I need this hope to stay interested in the narrative and by the end of the novel I was so invested that the Tremblays’ problems became my problems; their failures my failures; their successes my successes.
I don’t want to gush about the novel too much more (although it deserves all the praise that I’m giving it) so I’ll just leave you with one of my favourite quotes from this beautifully crafted novel.
“As we sat… we began to move very slowly, so that we could guess the meaning of each other’s gestures more precisely. We both pretended that we had picked up a toothbrush and we began brushing our teeth. Then we both spat into a non-existent sink together. We put our toothbrushes into their immaterial stands. We both picked up our imaginary combs and we pulled them through our hair. When we were done with our hair, we dipped the tips of our fingers into invisible tins of wax. He twirled the end of his imaginary mustache. I twirled the end of mine.
And the most amazing thing about our performance was that we had identical tears streaming down from our eyes at the very same time.” —Heather O’Neill, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Verdict: A poignant, heart-wrenching read. It’s gripping and shows a unique side of Canada. Another five star read for me.
Read if: You loved Lullabies for Little Criminals, are new to O’Neill’s work, appreciate great writing, love characters that you can fall in love with. They will love you back.
Have you read The Girl Who Was Saturday Night and/or Lullabies for Little Criminals? What did you think?