Being a twin can sometimes be rather trying. It’s harder to make yourself into an individual, to separate yourself from your other half. Because twins are so alike, they spend lots of time together and have an incredibly strong bond. In Heather O’Neill’s new novel, she tells us a story, a tragicomic of sorts, about a pair of twins who were once a huge part of the prominence of the Montreal folk scene, only to have their paths go astray years later when they hit their adult years.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is a story set in mid 90’s Montreal. Nineteen-year-old Nouschka Tremblay is walking to the night school to sign up. Turns out she dropped out of high school with her twin, Nicolas, when he decided that school wasn’t for him. Nouschka doesn’t have any issues with school, she was always decent at it, but she basically does whatever her brother does, because you know they’re twins. Ever since they were young, Nicolas and Nouschka did everything together. Children of semi-famous folk singer, Etienne Tremblay, the two kids spent much time in the limelight of Montreal’s music scene, on talk shows and making other public appearances. The tabloids track their movements, report on their wrongdoings and make their lives infinitely more difficult by continuing to put them in the media. Nouschka, however, decides that by signing up for night school that she’ll begin to distance herself from her twin, maybe as a way to actually start making it somewhere in life. She loves her brother, but she knows deep down that her relationship with him isn’t the healthiest thing.
Suffice it to say, Nouschka Tremblay’s story is not a simple one. What starts out as her trying to distance herself from her brother, quickly turns into a multi layered story about love, family, revolution and the difficulty of growing up without parents. Nouschka struggles with many things through the novel, but most of all is her relationship with her twin. At the beginning of the novel she decides to distance herself from him, to put some healthy boundaries in place with him, but over the course of the story we see her waver on those boundaries. Also she seems to struggle with her love life. We see her “fall” for different guys over and over, only to be completely unhappy and undecided all the time. Parenting is also a huge theme of the book. When the twins were young their mother left them with their father. However because Etienne was more concerned with being a famous Quebecois folk singer, he dumped them with their grandparents who raised them. Because of this either Nicolas or Noushka have any idea how to parent and have a rather terrible relationship themselves.
O’Neill doesn’t just write a story that is depressing and downtrodden, The Girl is also completely charming and lovely at times. The story itself may be about a set of twins, making their way through the world without any guidance, but the manner in which they do so is marvelous. It should be noted that even though their father was semi-famous at one time, these characters are part of the Montreal lower class. Nicolas struggles getting a job and resorts to a life of crime, while Noushka goes from working at a magazine store to a theatre. Nicolas is a father to a child he cannot care for, does not see and seems to care little for. He seems to suffer from fits of manic behavior that might allude he suffers from some sort of mental illness. Nouschka, however, cannot distance herself from her brother. Even when she finds herself happy in a relationship, moved out of her grandfather’s house, she still spends copious amounts of time worrying about his well being, wondering what he’s up to.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is an ode to 90’s Montreal. Native Quebecois, already in love with O’Neill and her writing, will not waver in the feelings. The story tries its best to fit as many themes as it can in 400 pages and it works well to create an enjoyable narrative; the result is a lovely story about a girl who has lost her way. Never really able to grasp her role in life, Nouschka Tremblay bounces from person to person, place to place. She has ambitions to become a writer, but hardly writes a word. Her twin brother is the chief problem in her continuing struggle. However it’s Nouschka that brings herself down when she jumps back into trouble when Nicolas can’t tread water anymore.
Rating: 8 out of 10 – The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is a story by a Quebecois, for the Quebecois. Heather O’Neill proved herself to be a fantastic writer with Lullabies for Little Criminals and this time is no different. Her newest novel paints a picture not normally seen, one that isn’t so commonly written about. The first person narration style is different and turns the main character Nouschka into a character the reader feels for. This is definitely one of 2014’s criminally underrated novels.