The Girl Who Was Saturday NightThe Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
My rating: 5/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

i just loved this book.

it’s taken me a while to sit down and write a review for this, because my love for it is difficult to put into words, it’s just something inescapable, familial. it’s definitely not a book for everyone. her writing style is something i can see being off-putting to some readers, but it just works for me – all that crowded poetic prose coming in just shy of being overworked. it seethes.

she also writes amazing this one, we have nicholas and nouschka tremblay – a nineteen-year-old brother-and-sister set of twins who grew up in the shadow of their larger-than-life father étienne – a québécois legend of surreal folk songs who used them as props throughout their childhood and absorbed them into his legend – they are, to him, byproducts of his persona. étienne had always been a presence in their lives, as in the lives and hearts of all citizens of quebec, but always fleeting, always just passing through, using them to bolster his career, scripting cute things for them to say on talk shows and then going off on a bender and ending up in jail, further fostering his affable outlaw appeal. their teenage mother left them when they were babies, they were raised by their grandfather, and they have always clung to each other – at nineteen, still sharing a bed, casual with their nudity and their involvement in each others’ love lives. their relationship is claustrophobic, unhealthy, but also lovely, despite my inherent fear of twins.

they have grown up feral, unmonitored, emotionally stunted under the loving scrutiny of strangers who remember them as cute little children and they have stagnated into this peter pan existence where they haven’t bothered to assume adult responsibilities, even though nicholas has a son whose life he wants to be a part of, despite not having the emotional or financial wherewithal to properly support him. having not had parental role models themselves, they are rudderless – drifting and stumbling – hapless at some of the most basic life skills, which is simultaneously sad and endearing:

I spent fifteen minutes trying to comb my hair and make it look straight. Hopeless. It was far too in love with the wind. If I had a mother, I would know how to fix my hair.

they are both innocent and cynical, wary of the spotlight, but living their lives on their own terms, which is naturally compelling and inviting of notice.

You could tell that she was a bit star-struck. We looked down on people that were star-struck. We couldn’t help it. How could we not look down on people when they were looking up at us?

étienne’s fame has not given him or his children any wealth – despite his continued status as a beloved symbol of the province, his dissolute lifestyle has caused his career to decline, and now he is just a shambling figure, a slovenly poet still desperate for adulation and not above using his children to reclaim that status.

the meat of the story involves étienne’s last-ditch attempt at cultural relevance draped over the backdrop of quebec’s separatist movement, which in turn mirrors nouschka’s smaller-scale attempt to separate from nicholas; to stop sacrificing herself for his needs and make a life all her own. it does not go according to plan, but at least it is gorgeously written; a fantastic story and also an unconditional love letter to quebec, in sickness and in health.

the closest stylistic comparison i can make is to francesca lia block. it’s that kind of surface-glitz shimmer romanticizing the squalor and a situation that to an outsider, seems unlivable. it’s a little less manic than block, but it’s in the same ballpark, and i very naturally respond to this style. plus, there are both a ton of cats and a ton of untranslated french in this book, which allows me to sink right in as though into comfortable quicksand.

i had to wait so long after Lullabies for Little Criminals for this book to exist, and i am thrilled to report that this one is just as good and probably even better because of a maturing of her writing, and a broadening of themes.

that was all gush and ramble, but i told you it would be hard for me to articulate. i just know i love.

read my reviews on goodreads

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