Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill

I am hesitant to review this book as I finished it feeling maybe I didn't really understand it. For example, I just don't understand what symbolism lay behind the many strange cats that the first person narrator actually sees or maybe imagines (I was never really sure which though the narrator, Nouschka Tremblay was definitely one of the more sane characters). Her descriptive similes were clever but I couldn't figure out why they were there. I saw one review of the book which suggested these and other clever turns of phrase felt like the author trying too hard to show off her clever literary devices and I'd have to agree unless someone can explain a higher purpose.

O'Neill does tell an interesting story of a very dysfunctional family. Nineteen year old twins Nicolas and Nouschka are inseparable (they often still sleep in the same bed). It's not surprising since they were abandoned at birth by their teenaged mother. She had been seduced by their father a Québécois folk singer and her parents who were ashamed of this happening in their small town made her drop the babies off with their maternal grandparents. Their grandmother dies when they are five and they are left to be raised by their well meaning but bumbling grandfather Loulou. Their father, Etienne, uses them as cute children to boost his career and his separatist politics and they never really escape the shadow of this early fame even though they do not benefit from it since Etienne drinks away his money drifting from jail to halfway houses now.
Nicolas is obsessed with tracking down their mother and eventually does so but Nouschka is hurt by the tricky way in which he does so and tries to separate herself from her twin shortly after. She enrols in school to finish high school and marries a neighbour who is clearly schizophrenic and has also served time. Her efforts to escape are foiled when tragedy hits and she once again ends up in the arms of her family.
In all the story is interesting, paints a great picture of lower class French Canadians struggling in Montreal against the backdrop of separatism and of the harmful effects of early fame, teenaged pregnancy, petty crime and mental illness. But the literary devices are so obvious yet opaque that they actually detract from the narrative.

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