I enjoyed Lullabies for Little Criminals, and was keen to check out this other offering from Heather O’Neill. Noushka, our narrator, is 20 and lives in Montreal with her eccentric
grandfather, who has brought up both herself and twin brother Nicolas. The twins are close and almost overly comfortable in each other’s company – still sharing a bed and knowing sordid details of the others’ private life. The twins have never fully recovered from having a famous father Etienne, who was a folk singer of sorts back when the twins were young, and the twins themselves ended up with a lot of exposure on TV, making them minor celebrities too.
With no education and just a menial job, Noushka goes back to school to try and better herself but struggles against an unimpressed brother, irritating father, complicated love life – and the TV documentary crew that has started sniffing around…
I really enjoyed the story of Noushka, who is quirky, funny and unconventional. Her family are all crazy and you feel for her as she tries to get on with her life against the odds.
The writing style is also quirky like our heroine – but at times I did find this could get a bit annoying. There are non-stop similes – sometimes these are lovely and add to the book but at times I just wanted to get on with it! There are also cats everywhere in this book for no real reason except for the opportunity for more fun figures of speech.
“A cat peeped in the window. It had one white paw. One night it had decided to dip it into the reflection of the moon in a fountain to see what would happen.”
… and sometimes it gets even more surreal:
“Misha was smoking a cigar. He exhaled little girls in pyjamas who ran as fast as they could and crawled behind the couch and under the lampshade, playing hide-and-seek.”
While this use of language is cute at times, it can get a bit much and interrupts the flow of the story somewhat.
I did also find the book dragged a bit for me about two thirds of the way through – while Noushka’s story was getting more interesting, the narrative seemed to stall a bit and I did feel it could all be a bit tighter and snappier. There is also a lot in the book about the Quebec referendum, and although this did set the scene it didn’t really interest me – maybe I had referendum overkill following the Scottish campaign last year!
But overall I did really like this story – the characters were unique and the story was honest, sad and touching. I found myself rooting for Noushka even though her decisions were frustrating at times, and the cast of eccentrics she found herself embroiled with were fascinating too. I would recommend this if you want to read something a bit different and unusual.
Rating: 7 out of 10