“Love is like this small room where a child brings you to show you all their treasures. First the child shows you all the new toys that are bright and shiny and top of the line. But then she shows you all the stuff that has ended up at the bottom of the trunk. There are dolls with eyes that wobble, hair that is falling out of their heads, and dirt behind their ears. Their fingertips have been chewed off by dogs and they have been drawn on with ballpoint pen. It has been so long since they have been held or anyone has told them that they are lovely. They lie at the bottom of the toy chest, hidden and ashamed. You are either going to be disgusted by them, or you are going to be so filled with love for them that your heart almost breaks.”
Heather O’Neill is the most beautiful writer who writes about the most ugly things.
I read O’Neill’s first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals, for Bookstravaganza last year. It was, similarly, about the ugliness of life, though told from a child/teenager. The heroine of Saturday Night, Nouschka (which is my new favourite name ever, by the way) is 19-20, similarly lost amongst the scum of Montreal. Your heart breaks for her, the motherless child who loves harder than anyone else ever could, as she navigates her temperamental twin brother and trying to stay afloat when there’s so much to pull her down. She wants to go to school and earn more for herself than her mess of a family ever had, and yet there’s so much opposition to her sanity. She fights a war on all fronts, and I suppose emerges victorious in a sense – that there is a way to be good in this world, even when the world doesn’t want you to be good.
What was also interesting about this book was how it touched on the feelings of Quebec independence and separatism, invoking Canadian history into the hearts of these rash and angry characters. I remember meeting a Quebec exchange student once (in the 2000s, not the 80s/90s when this took book took place), who still held familial feelings of separatism so strong in her heart that she winced at the playing of the Canadian anthem in school.
It was certainly a quick 400-page read, and one I recommend to anyone looking for a bit of good in the ugliness of the world, in light of how terrible it has been lately.
Books read: 2