Book review of The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

This novel was eagerly anticipated by my book club, which read O’Neill’s previous offering; Lullabies for Little Criminals and generally loved it. We were disappointed.

the-girl-who-was-saturday-nightAs the person who chose the book, I read the online reviews, which are all glowing and appreciative of O’Neill’s quirky metaphoric prose so I expected a stellar read. However, the book’s storyline and writing style left us underwhelmed.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is only O’Neill’s second novel since her runaway success Lullabies for Little Criminals came out 7 years ago. And similarly, it’s about a lost girl living on the wrong side of town who eventually finds her place, if not in the sun, then in a warmer spot.

This time the heroine is a French Canadian teen named Nouschka who lives with her twin brother Nicolas and their ailing grandfather Loulou on the seedy side of St. Laurent Blvd. because they’ve been abandoned by both parents – a teenage girl and a famous French Canadian chansonnier. The book is written in English but we’re to imagine the language spoken is French and to remind us of that, O’Neill adds French phrases seemingly randomly throughout the book.

The story takes place during Quebec’s second failed referendum for sovereignty in 1995 and I’m left wondering if the referendum is a metaphor for the failed lives so-far of the two protagonists. Their dreams are wild and magnificent, but their fulfillment, just like sovereignty itself, eludes them.

Through poor life-choices like dropping out of school, marrying the wrong man, aiding in a bank robbery, using drugs and indiscriminate sex, Nouschka’s life spirals out of control until an event changes her path ever so slowly and she pieces her life together. Nouschka’s love of and talent for writing saves her soul from the dead streets of downtown Montreal.  O’Neill had a hard-scrabble life as a youth and I wonder how much of O’Neill’s actual life figures in this novel.

O’Neill’s penchant for metaphor and simile is rampant. I underlined about a hundred metaphors and similes, fascinated by how she compares unrelated elements to describe everything from the countless cats that appear in the book to her character descriptions. While I enjoyed this, the majority of the book club didn’t.

I wanted to like this book, but don’t.  However, it’s an excellent choice for a book club selection because you will be discussing her use of metaphors, plot twists and character development for hours.

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