The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

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The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: Set to the backdrop of the separatist movement in Quebec, Nouschka and her twin brother Nicolas live and love in tandem. Nouschka upsets the fragile equilibrium between them when she marries another man, because they can only rely on each other.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: May 2014
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1849163323

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Longlisted for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2015

The time: the 1995; the place: Quebec. The Tremblay family have espoused the cause of Quebeçois separation from English-speaking Canada for many years. Etienne Tremblay has been a prominent, political folk singer throughout the childhood of Nouschka, his daughter, and her identical twin brother, Nicolas. The young children themselves appeared on stage frequently and have been brought up much in the public eye. Their father is almost always absent from their life as he feeds his selfishness on public adoration. Their mother only existed for them as a name in a hit song about a one night stand. They were cared for by Loulou, a loving grandfather lacking any influence over their behaviour.

This rudderless start, which is where the story takes up, has left Nicolas as a self-destructive adolescent. Nouschka herself is frustrated by the mismatch between the public image of the twins as adorable children and the rather more anarchic reality of their dysfunctional lives as young adults. The twins depend only on each other as they lurch through the independence campaign in Quebec. Nouschka precipitates a crisis with Nicolas when she leaves him for a new husband, himself apparently picked for his general inability to sustain a stable relationship.

Nouschka is an unforgettable, authentic heroine. She may not come through as a likeable character in the early part of the novel, but she has a translucence to her motivations which make her easy to 'get'. We can’t be in any doubt where she is headed. There hardly seems any point in hoping for anything in particular, for Nouschka is self-willed and adamant, and retains throughout an ability to shock us with her words and actions. However she is driven forward in her development by clarity and realism. Against her conscious will, she moves towards what used to be called the self-actualizing tendency as her child grows inside her.

Heather O’Neill writes crisply, the novel moves at a sharp clip, and her quirky similes notch the writing up still more. Inconsequential details are turned into an abundance of local colour:

Misha was smoking a cigar. He exhaled little girls in pyjamas who ran as fast as they could and crawled behind the crouch and under the lampshade, playing hide and seek.


Pigeons shifted back and forth from one foot to the other, like old ladies with bags of heavy groceries in either hand.

Or, more simply, … the stone on my wedding ring was like a drop of dew on a leaf.

So why only four stars? Well, I do like happy endings, but not here, in a novel of this authenticity and calibre. A novel can’t be built on a bedrock of realism, only to be dismantled by saga-like sentimentality in the last few pages! Regeneration into mainstream society may be Nouschka’s prize as she grows in stature, but maturity isn’t a linear equation, applied by a benign god to everyone at the same rate and the same time. The other players need to stay within their regrettably misguided characters, at least for now.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book, which I’ll remember for a long time.

If you enjoyed this book, you may also like the equally perceptive We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

Buy The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill at

Buy The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill at


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