Nineteen-year-old Nouschka Tremblay and her twin brother Nicolas spent their childhood in the Quebec limelight, the only children of famed singer and separatist, Étienne. He would parade them on talk shows whenever his happy family was needed for his fame and then dumped with their decrepit grandfather Loulou before he disappeared. For their entire lives, it was the twins against the world.
But now that they are on the cusp of adulthood, Étienne’s fame is gone and the twins are on their own. Nicolas has turned to a life of petty crime, with every misstep being broadcast on the front pages of the tabloids. But Nouschka is the one who stands a fighting chance. She has enrolled in school and is quickly coming to the realization that if she is going to make it in this world, she may need to leave her brother behind.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill, is a profound and touching novel about the price of fame and the bonds of family. Set in Montreal in the days leading up to the 1995 referendum, it is a story of love and belonging, politics and relationships.
If you’re looking for a novel about a dysfunctional family this it. There is no better family than the Tremblays to explore the theme of how our childhood informs our present. It took me a little while to understand Nouschka, but the more I read the more I warmed up to her, finally seeing her as a girl who just wants to do right but doesn’t quite know what that is. And who can blame her based on her upbringing.
There is no doubt that O’Neill is a talented author. Her writing feels effortless and yet it packs so much into it. It is definitely one of those books where you think, I’ll just sit down and read a couple chapters then suddenly realize you’ve read most of the book. You get lost in her words and incredible descriptions.
I picked up this book because it was nominated for the Giller Prize and the separatist themes that run through the book are definitely reminiscent of another nominated book, My October. But the books present it in very different manners. I felt with this one it was much more focused on the individual rather than collective feeling, and I think that this book would be much better for people outside of Canada to read and get a feeling of what this issue means in Quebec and in Canada.
Overall this was an enjoyable book. Definitely one where you want to give a lot of time in one sitting. I read this book in a week when I was doing a lot of running around and travelling by transit and this definitely wasn’t that kind of book. I’d be immersed in it when I arrived at my destination and didn’t want to stop reading. I think all that picking it up and putting it down ruined the reading experience a bit for me. So make yourself a large pot of tea or coffee and settle in on a cold winter day with this book, you won’t regret it.