As I was reading this book I kept being thrown back into the mood and atmosphere of my graduate sociology studies. And I kept wondering why. And it was somewhat uncomfortable. It took a late night conversation with my husband to put my finger on it. And there are a number of reasons.
First, the book is set in what seems to be the first half of the early 1990s. This was a very intense period in my life. I was a graduate student, worked as a teaching and research assistant, lived alone in Montreal, was involved in a very intense relationship, and worked very hard on figuring out the next steps in my life. It seems to be a period in which every impression and every emotion had a very sharp edge… I don’ t think that any other period of my life had that intensity, or not for such a prolonged period.
Secondly, it reflects some aspects of Montreal that I am not currently in touch with given where I live and work, although I did have a glimpse of other lives in the past. My life, as it is, is definitely sedate and suburban, very much removed from funky urban possibilities. Did I forget those even exist?
Thirdly, I found myself somewhat asking myself whether Heather O’Neill had any right to write a book set in Montreal, with French-Canadian protagonists, given them a voice in English, except for the odd French expression, and swear words, finding their way in dialogue. And indeed, how does she have the right? Well, she does… Her narrator does not distance himself from the characters and does not judge them, playfully accompanying those characters in their adventures, idiosyncratic choices, and showing us the peculiar world they are living in, through the eyes of Nouschka Tremblay, raised on Saint-Laurent boulevard, in the heart of Montreal, but significantly on what is a boundary between two worlds, sitting on the fence, so to speak.
I will be talking more about the book in the coming days.
I selected it in part because it was on the Giller Prize long list, but also because Heather O’Neill interviewed Eleanor Catton at the Drawn and Quarterly bookshop on September 21. Well now, the book has made the short list, and we will have to see whether it lands the Prize… Out of the 3 books from the long list that I chose to buy, 2 made it to the short list.
O’Neill, Heather. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Harper Collins, Toronto, ON, 2014.