The Girl Who Was Saturday Night tells the story of twenty-year-old Nouschka Tremblay and her twin brother, Nicholas. As the novel begins, Nouschka has signed up for night school to try and complete her high school diploma – both her and Nicholas dropped out of school before completing their qualifications.
“You were better in school than he was. He was always antagonizing the teachers. It’s good to do something by yourself. I used to beat you to stop you from sleeping together in the same bed, but you still did. You ate out of the same plates. You wore the same clothes. You said the same things at the same time. You took baths together. It was disgusting.”
When we were very little, I don’t even think that Nicholas and I were aware that we were different people. It was only when we started dating that we were able to spend any time away from each other. In these heightened experiences we were distracted from missing each other.
Brought up by their grandparents after their mother left them on her doorstep, Nouschka and Nicholas are the children of famous seventies Québécois folk singer Étienne Tremblay.
Outside of Québec, nobody had even heard of him, naturally. Québec needed stars badly. The more they had, the better argument they had for having their own culture and separating from Canada.
Tremblay’s a ‘bad boy’: in and out of prison, claims to have slept with hundreds of women. He took his kids on stage and on television talk shows with him so Nouschka and Nicholas became famous at a very young age too. He continues to wander in and out of their lives when he feels like it, bringing a film crew with him who wants to make a documentary about the family.
Nicholas makes his living as a thief holding up small business with no more than thirty dollars in the till. It’s a life he decided upon after fathering a child, Pierrot, when he was fifteen. Nouschka describes his life of crime as ‘an attempt to be responsible’, Nicholas being unable to make enough money to pay child support. Although he attempts to have a better relationship with his child than his own father had with him, it’s clearly not going well.
Two things drive the plot, the build-up to the Québec referendum on separating from Canada and the twins’, but particularly Nouschka’s, attempts to come to terms with being abandoned by their mother.
The story’s interesting, although possibly overlong. Nouschka and Nicholas’ lives are so far removed from the average person’s – more bohemian than anything – that it feels quite voyeuristic, as though the reader has become one of the people whom Étienne Tremblay wanted to parade his kids in front of.
It’s some of the lines that made this book for me though. There are moments where O’Neill expresses an idea perfectly, like this one just after Nouschka and Nicholas have argued about their mother:
We didn’t say anything to each other after that. We just lay there with our hearts beating. There is nothing as frustrating as being consumed with rage over someone and knowing that you aren’t even on their mind. You want your enemy to be engaged in a struggle until the death with you. Otherwise you are fighting yourself. I mean we are all essentially only in wars against ourselves, but we don’t like it to be so painfully obvious.
An interesting novel about familial relationships and the impact they can have on your lives. O’Neill finishes with different conclusions for different characters showing that while some of the behaviour and interactions may be recognisable, each experience is unique.
Thanks to Quercus for the review copy.