This novel (and review) may not be suitable for younger audiences. Reader discretion is advised.
In The Girl who was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill, we start in Quebec, 1994, before the 1995 referendum that would decide if Quebec would separate from Canada. Nicolas and Nouschka are separatist teens trying to find their identities after they spent their whole lives having their identities forged for them by the media and their famous father (who, by the way, was a real dick and only talked to them when it was convenient for him). Now their famous father is a washed-up wannabe but their “personalities” still haven’t faded from the public’s minds.
Needless to say, the N&N twins have had a hard life, what with their father using them for personal gain, and their mother abandoning them because she was like 14 when they were conceived. Yeesh. There’s a lot of bad choices being made and a lot of one night stands. We follow Nouschka (in first person POV) as she attempts to finish school and get herself out of the ratchet of poverty, crime and poor decision-making (yeah, like teens are ever going to stop doing that).
The Quills: 8/10
Writers looked for secrets that had never been mined. […] They might seem to be writing in French, English or Spanish, but really they were writing in the language of butterflies, crows and hanged men.
-Heather O’Neill, The Girl who was Saturday Night
The only thing goodreads seems to agree about in terms of genre for this book is that it’s fiction. And that it’s about Canada. I would say this is a YA coming-of-age story, however when I picked it up, it was shelved in the adult section. It has a great, very distinctly angry/angsty teen voice that sometimes ventures into more adult phrases and thoughts. Then again, there’s a lot of random sex and drugs.
It was about 400 pages but the writing flows really well and I got through it in just a couple of hours in between a bus ride and making dinner. There are some scattered french phrases here and there (none too difficult), so if you’re not up on your french, you may want to have a computer handy for translations.
It has voice. It is poetic. There are amazing metaphors and similes everywhere (although some would say too many). There are fabulous quotes everywhere.
I would have liked to see a little more characterization. Nouschka is done very well (well yeah, she narrates). Her twin and one of her boyfriends are well characterized too. Some of the characterization was done through telling and not showing though. The rest of the characters sort of just linger around the fringe, having a line here and there, playing their stereotyped roles. We don’t really get to know them.
The world-building is done well when it describes Nouschka’s house, but while the world-at-large is gritty, crazy, and alive (with drug-dealing motorcycle gangs and prostitutes, no less), it’s still a little fuzzy around the edges. There are some streets mentioned and (kind of) described, but as I’ve never been to Quebec, I don’t get a real sense of what their world looks, feels, and smells like.
The Roses: 6.5/10
I didn’t like it as much as I should have. I was having a hard time with the fact that, like life, this story follows a meandering road that often takes you back over where you were before. Several times. And sometimes things just happened. Without logic. Without thought.
Despite the fact that it was told in first person, I felt more like a spectator off to the side, rather than being in the world with them. Maybe it was because all the things that happened to them were huge and amazing. I couldn’t see any of them really happening.
And none of Nouscka’s choices made sense to me. She had a good idea of what she needed to do to improve her life, but she kept letting herself get swept away by her men. Not what I would have done. Maybe that was what it was like living as a girl during those times. Maybe that’s what they call a generation gap. In any case, I didn’t get it. And since Quebec is currently a province of Canada, the outcome of the referendum lost some of its impact. The ending in general seemed a little contrived to me.
Overall, The Girl who was Saturday Night was a great read, full of literary goodness. It just didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have liked. On the plus side, yay for awesome Canadian authors!