Giller Reading Day 4: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

Untitled design-2At nineteen years old, no one really has it figured out. But for twins Nicolas and Nouschka Tremblay, children of Etienne, a legendary Quebecois folksinger who continuously keeps winding up in jail, things are a bit tougher. As children they were broadcast on radio and on television as a gimmick, often referred to as Little Noushcka and Little Nicolas. When Etienne started running into legal problems, both children were dumped with their grandfather Loulou. With their Mother choosing not to be involved in their lives, Nicolas and Nouschka have become inseparable. They become one mind and are so heavily reliant on one another that others people in their lives make comments about their bond. But they need each other for support, comfort and guidance. Of course like an sibling unit, they argue and don’t always see eye to eye. They even have screaming and throwing matches at times, but quickly, sometimes within a matter of minutes, they patch things up. Poor Loulou doesn’t know what to do with them.

As they watch their Father continue to try to “make it” and watch a film crew follow him around trying to document his “has-been” life, the twins each take on their own paths of adulthood. Nouschka searches for love in all the wrong places and in all the wrong beds. She finds comfort and love by seeing a much older man, but continues to trudge on in school hoping that one day it’ll pay off. Her brother has a different approach. He’s no longer attending school, he has a child that he’s not supporting and he’s in the early stages of quickly becoming a felon. Their decisions and actions are clearly a result some deeper issues at hand; abandonment (their Mother), neglect (their Father) and isolation (Loulou). Watching them struggle with their choices isn’t always easy, but their journey (individually and together) is one that’s so tragic and disturbing that you’ll find yourself taking little breaks, because you need to know how it all plays out.

Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night is set during the Quebec Referendum (for my US readers, a time when Quebec voted to see if they should become an indecent state), more information here. It was a time of uncertainty, but for the Tremblay family, it was a time of unity. Because their family was so affiliated with the Quebec folksinging community, in an odd their family has become a symbol of hope, of what they their independent state could look like, even though their lives are filled with many, many cracks. As tragedy strikes and paths take unexpected turns, Nouschka knows that she can always run, but she can’t hide. Her home is with her family, despite their many, many flaws.

Like Lullabies for Little Criminals (which is one of my favourite novels), Heather O’Neill slowly peels away the layers of her characters to expose their most intimate thoughts in a very calculated way. She never seems to be afraid at showcasing their flaws and this makes the reader have to think about the bond they’re creating with the main character. Do you like Nouschka? Are you rooting for her or for her family? I’ll be honest and share with you that I was unable to fully connect with Nouschka on that level. She just wasn’t my cup of tea and I think that getting hung on that fact tarnished my experience with this book. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book, I just didn’t love it as much as I loved other books on the list. Do I think you should read it and form your own opinion? 100%

Be sure to come back to the blog tomorrow when I’ll be sharing my thoughts on All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. 

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Winner will be announced on CBC Television on Monday, November 10 at 9 p.m. (9:30 NT).

AND if you feel like treating ‘yo self, I urge you to head out to your local Giller Light Bash. Parties will be taking place across the country in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg and Halifax. Be sure to check out


6 thoughts on “Giller Reading Day 4: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

  1. Carole Besharah says:

    Great review, Lindsey.

    As a French-Canadian, I was blown away just how well an Anglophone writer capture a culture, a people. So many details and images hit home. I actually, really, really liked Nouschka. Still, I must confess, I have a love-hate relationship with O’Neill’s style. So. Many. Similes.

    I just posted my review the the novel if you want to check it out:

    Thanks for sharing. Cannot wait for the Giller Prize announcement!

    • LR says:

      GREAT review – I can imagine you’d read it very differently as a French-Canadian. It would take on a whole other meaning.

      Thanks for including me in your post and for all the support as I’ve been doing my readalong!

      • Carole Besharah says:

        Thanks for the kind words and for following my bog, Lindsey.

        I’m enjoying your Giller readalong, a lot. I get excited about the Giller Prize each year. Seeing as I don’t have the time the read all the shortlisted titles before Nov. 8th (too much homework), you are keeping my well-informed.

        Plus: I love hearing what other bloggers have to say about CanLit. Always.


  2. Naomi says:

    I still have to read Lullabies For Little Criminals! It sits on my shelf and stares at me. This one sounds good, too, though. I haven’t read a book set during the Quebec referendum before. I would probably learn something!

  3. kmn04books says:

    Great review, Lindsey! I can’t say that I related very much to Nouschka, but I did end up rooting for her and her family to get it together in the end. I enjoyed the fact that the referendum plays out in the novel because that’s not something that I read about very often.

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