Since reading Lullabies For Little Criminals in 2007, I have been a huge fan of Heather O’Neill. But if you look at my list of favourite novels (including both of her novels, plus The Enchanted and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, to name a few) this is no surprise. I love metaphors. I love similes. The higher a book is on my list of favourites, the more likely it is that there are pages dog-eared and quotes underlined.
While reading The Girl Who Was Saturday Night on Toronto transit, I found myself attempting to type my favourite lines into my phone in one hand, holding the book in the other while keeping my arm wrapped tightly enough around a pole to ensure I didn’t fall down. I am not a graceful person, and this was—both fortunately and unfortunately—a regular occurrence, because the strength of O’Neill’s novels are not just her outrageously charming, down-and-out-yet-impeccably-hopeful protagonists (though you will love Baby and Nouschka), but also in her writing. And here are some people who agree:
O’Neill’s unique strength as a prose stylist has always been in the strength of her individual sentences, and in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, the way she wields an image feels less like style than superpower.
As with Lullabies, the real pleasure of O’Neill’s new novel is the language. She writes like a sort of demented angel with an uncanny knack for metaphor. Pigeons atop a restaurant sign are “crammed together like a group of teenagers making trouble on a bench.” The prose is riskier in Girl, with more magic and surrealism.
To further my point, I’ve decided to share a collection of my favourite lines from The Girl Who Was Saturday Night rather than a review, since raving about Heather’s writing is not nearly as effective as reading it.
They were pregnant before they even had a chance to unpack their bags. They didn’t want this. They didn’t want to populate this horrible land that was snow and rocks and skinny wolves. They spoke to their children through gritted teeth. That’s where the Québec accent came from. The nation crawled out from between their legs. —65
Nicholas and Nouschka were here with the rats and the flowers. —111
It was terrifying to have the responsibility of living in a world that was so filled with so much wonder. —114
Look at you! This whole wonderful universe of things in one skinny girl. —114
You are engaged in the greatest battle of them all: the battle to be yourself. —115
We had a hundred ways to sign our contracts of love. —115
It was all too late after that kiss. I already knew what his breath smelled like. I already knew what he looked like in his pyjamas. I already knew what he sounded like when he spoke in his sleep. I was already his girlfriend by the end of the kiss. —146
The universe was something that we drew with crayons and there was no such thing as tragedy. —189
Readers are a rare and wonderful breed. I’ve never heard of anyone not liking a reader. —218
If you don’t have something to try and get better at when you are twenty years old, you are lost. —278
“Everyone here now was a direct descendant of a daydreamer.” —164
“One of the reasons that I wanted to study literature was because it exposed everything. Writers looked for secrets that had never been mined. Every writer has to invent their own magical language, in order to describe the indescribable. They might seem to be writing in French, English, or Spanish, but really they were writing in the language of butterflies, crows and hanged men.” —336
Okay, you got me. That’s more than 10, but I had trouble narrowing them down.