Spoilers! Be forewarned!
I never felt truly comfortable reading The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. O’Neill’s prose, by design, lacks the flow common to most literary fiction — it jumps uneasily from sentence to sentence, tone to tone, cavalierly tossing exquisite metaphors, sly humor, and brutally straightforward observations together in a narrative that won’t ever let the reader settle into a rhythm. This voice turns out to belong to the main character, Nouschka, who enters the story like something out of a fairytale, getting plucked off the street on her way to enroll in a GED program (or the Canadian equivalent of a GED) and being crowned a beauty queen, all the while worrying about a mysterious Nicholas, who is sure to be displeased. That this all plays out in a seedy neighborhood in Montreal shortly before the 1995 Quebec Independence Referendum, that Nicholas turns out to be Nouschka’s twin brother, and that their parents turn out to be largely absent from their lives only adds to the feeling of not-quite-reality (their father, a Quebecois separatist folk singer, impregnated their underage mother and subsequently served jail time for the relationship; their overwhelmed mother gave them up to their paternal grandparents).