Some people really like Heather O’Neill (e.g. apparently all of Canadian media and award committees). I am not one of those readers. Lullabies for Little Criminals predates the blog, but I remember thinking it was a bit overwrought. Enter The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, O’Neill’s second novel and a repeat effort to make me feel something profound by way of Serious last sentences for every chapter. These sentences have a kind of formula: Feeling/Abstract Noun + unusual metaphor + adjective + reference to a cat. I think these sentences feel pretty good about themselves. And then can’t be bothered to follow through on the grit and sadness of the entire novel, and instead capitulates to some optimistic naivety (that the rest of the novel does not support) in an altogether too tidy ending.
Sure, sure. The novel offers fresh descriptions, a somewhat compelling narrator (Noushka, the 19 year-old highschool dropout, twin to Nicholas, fucked-up family life, Francophone-separatist in Montreal in 1995, having sex with Russians and wearing odd clothing) and the moderately interesting thematic question of whether we control our lives or whether we are subject of birth and circumstance, and what influence our parents have on our ability to make (good) choices. (S. aptly compared it to a less interesting Catcher in the Rye in this respect). But these qualities do not make up for the lackluster plot (what does it say when I secretly cheered at the death of a character because it meant he was finally out of the way and the plot could advance? maybe it says more about me…). Nor for the inexplicable inclusion of stray cats every which way. What do they mean? Do I care enough to think about it? Not really. Maybe they have something to do with Noushka and Nicholas being ‘strays’ themselves, just looking for someone to love and take care of them. Whatever.
So… not a ringing endorsement. But you know, if you get your kicks from reading what will get awards because of the aforementioned seriously literary sentences (I jest a bit, some of them are kinda beautiful) or because of Literary Celebrity, then by all means… just don’t complain to me when you’ve read 400 pages and you’re still wondering when you might start caring (or maybe I’m just a soul-less reader? tell me if I have this one wrong…).