In your last year of high school in Quebec, at least in the public sector, you have to pass your mandatory French class. There is a three-part exam at the end of the year – listening comprehension, written comprehension, and oral comprehension. I made it this far riding mostly on my listening and oral comprehension; to this day my written French work is a bloody mess. The basis for my French oral was to discuss in a group setting what I thought defined the culture of Quebec. A hilarious question for a Jamaican-born French teacher to be posing to two students of West Indian descent (Jamaica and Barbados), living quite outside of Quebec culture. For a long time I didn’t have an answer to her question, instead I gave a detailed list and description of everything related to West Indian cultures (including a translation of Barbados’ declaration on education and an explanation of the coat of arms). I lost marks for not answering the question, but I got flying colours for just being able to express myself.
If you’ve followed Quebec in the past few years, I apologize for the bore, but the headliners is the only way I’ve identified the culture. Quebec to me has been a province of harsh winters, salty poutines, cheap higher education and extreme high school drop out rates, language police, loopholes with a few laws, constant protests, and blatant corruption in every avenue of government possible. The four years of having skewed Quebec history beaten into my head meant nothing months before graduation; I only retained the bits I couldn’t fluff out for exams.
I didn’t expect The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
to fill out the foggy image of Quebec culture for me. Heather O’Neill’s second novel is an attestation to the Quebec that always wanted to be so much of it’s own entity, even if no one else knew anything that set it apart from the pack. I’ve never seen a novel written so empathetically to the Quebec culture, especially written by an Anglophone.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
follows the Tremblay twins, Nicholas and Nouschka through the year prior and post referendum of 1995 when Quebec attempted to separate from Canada. The twins, as if that wasn’t special enough, are children and living props to Étienne Tremblay, Quebec’s pride and joy from its late Automatistes days. Legal adults, the twins still act like school children and sum it up to the actions of the motherless and dimmed spotlight. Still spurting about a comeback, Étienne clutching his old glory as a Quebec superstar and Nicholas convinced of a separate Quebec complete with a mother to love him, Nouschka is the only one with her head on at least. Questionable fashion decisions aside, Nouschka’s plan to veer away from the stereotype is a great one, but it’s not easy stick to with her brother tripping her up every step of the way. Things go moderately well for a while, but when they start to decline, they drop like unsuspecting pedestrians rushing on icy sidewalks. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
is a beautifully orchestrated review of relationships between people with family and country, the past, and the future, all while experiencing the turbulence encountered when not being fully in control for the entire time.
If you liked her debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals
, O’Neill’s second project The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
will definitely be enjoyable. If you live in Montreal, you’ll love it even more. As an Anglophone born to immigrant parents, such a unique experience and upbringing has never had enough room for me to explore Quebecois culture (because at most times someone in government was trying to shove it down my throat). The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
does not come off as a historical fiction, but it definitely looms in the background and becomes the perfect setting for a coming of age and awareness novel as the province of Quebec tries to veer out on its own. You don’t HAVE
to be from Montreal to get it, but it definitely is a cherry on top.
Also, O'Neill's awesome simile game is so much more clutch now. I’m mad jealous.
Labels: heather o'neill, lullabies for little criminals, the girl who was saturday night, women writers reading group