Ladies on Literature
Welcome, Fall, you show-off season!
With your pumpkin orange, glittering gold and crimson colours bursting beauty upon
the earth, we love your majesty; your hint of chill in the air; the way you ease us from
hot days of summer to heart-beckoning days of snowy winter.
And welcome, dear readers, to the final LOL column in Okanagan Woman. The autumn air whispers of change, and I have heeded the call. After eight years of penning this piece, it is time to close the curtain.
I’ve been in a few book clubs in my life. The first, when my son was just a baby and I, just desperate for adult conversation with companionable women. The wife of my husband’s colleague invited me to join and I was delighted – until I made an ass of myself at our very first meeting. The hostess asked me what I did for a living and because it is polite, I was about to reciprocate the question, except I already knew the answer. Like everyone else there, she was a lawyer. Indeed, myself and the neighbor I invited, were the only exceptions. Thinking myself clever, I said to her, “I understand you are an attorney.” Apparently, I’d been watching too much LA Law. Hand on her chest, she mockingly replied, “Attorney? That’s what they call lawyers in the United States. In Canada, we’re called… lawyers.” Strike one for the new mom. I don’t recall how many more of those meetings I attended, but enough to confirm my first impression: it wasn’t a good fit.
The next book club I belonged to was set in the Middle East, where a group of expatriates eagerly devoured contraband books we’d smuggled from Canada to the United Arab Emirates. Fast forward to 2011 and the creation of the LOL. We are a group of fifteen women, who meet on the first Wednesday of every month, to discuss a novel or non-fiction selection. We sip our valley’s bounty from sparkling wine glasses and indulge in fabulous food. But most of all, we laugh-out-loud as we discuss everything under the sun, including the book.
Every single woman in the LOL is wonderfully unique. Some have children, some don’t. Some have grandchildren, some don’t. Some have husbands, some don’t. Most have (or at least love) dogs. Some are still working, some are not. We have teachers and teachers’ aides, travelers, writers, a librarian; a doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, and pharmacist; entrepreneurs, artists, RCMP members, and yes, even a lawyer. I love these ladies! I admire how smart and strong and interesting every one of them is. How kind, caring and classy. Over the eight years we’ve been gathering, we’ve gained new wisdom and new friendships. My blessings have been fourteen-fold.
Speaking of classy and charismatic women, I am so thankful to the ones who’ve held the helm of this magazine. The brilliant and ground-breaking TJ Wallis, who launched Okanagan Woman and my column with it, and the multitalented and creative wonder, Suzy van Bakel, who continues to take the magazine in new and exciting directions.
Now that my son has graduated from university and my daughter is nearing completion of her degree, I find myself with a little more time and a lot more yearning to complete some fiction projects that are calling— make that screaming— for completion. I look forward to contributing feature articles to Okanagan Woman, but I will miss penning this piece. If you’re interested in what the LOL (still going strong) is reading, please check shannonlinden.ca for a list of our books and even some of our recipes. You can also visit Laura, who writes for Okanagan Woman and is a member of the LOL, at lauragosset.com, for some incredible travel blogs and a link to our book club. It’s wonderful to end on a high note, so I leave you now with a highly recommended read.
Take care, thanks for your support, and keep reading, sipping,
savoring, and LAUGHING OUT LOUD!!
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
by Heather O’Neill
Some ladies know in advance, the book they’ve been aching to read. Others agonize over the choice. After all, there is so much great literature and so little time. When it is my turn to host, I employ my personal strategy: select a Canadian award finalist or winner. Not only do we support this country’s writers that way, we learn a lot about our culture. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, a finalist for the 2014 Governor General’s Award, did not disappoint.
Set in the gritty, sexy Montreal of 1995, the Quebec separatist referendum is all people can talk about while boys and her uncertain future are all Nouschka Tremblay can think about. She’s nineteen and tied to her twin brother, Nicolas, by more than a birthday. They are deeply connected—best friends, really—who often still share a bed. Abandoned by their teenage mother when they were infants, the twins spend much of their childhood being paraded around the showbiz circuit by Etienne, their infamous folksinger father. No matter how washed up he is or how many times he’s been to prison, Etienne remains beloved by the people (although no one outside Quebec has heard of him).
The twins can run (and get into plenty of trouble) but they cannot escape their childhood fame. The only stable presence in their lives is the wonderfully caring, though slightly crazy, Loulou, their paternal grandfather. He does his best, but the gorgeous twins seem forever doomed to be known as petit Nicolas and petite Nouschka. Until Nouschka wants out. Desperate to create her own identity, she signs up for night school so that she can complete her high school diploma and continue her education. She is sometimes derailed by her brother’s antics, but the biggest impediment to her success is the man she falls in love with, Raphael, a former figure skater, also haunted by a dysfunctional childhood.
I loved this book! I’ve never encountered an author so adept at simile and metaphor, mood and understated humor. The streets of Montreal are crawling with cats who creep across the pages of this book, jumping into random windows and curling up on strangers’ beds. A white, skinny cat is… “like a 19-year-old boy wearing a wife beater undershirt.” Another cat slinks down the hall, “like a naked girl heading to the bathroom after she has had sex in an unfamiliar apartment.” The ambience is so rich. You can almost smell the French culture seeping from the pages like a freshly baked chocolate croissant. We understand exactly what she means, when O’ Neill writes: “There was no difference between the expression I like you and I love you in French. You could never declare love like that in English.”
It is a coming-of-age book and the journey of self-discovery is never smooth. Mischa, an aging Russian playboy and on-again, off-again lover, who truly cares for Nouschka, sums it up best: “You are engaged in the greatest battle of them all: the battle to be yourself. It is the ugliest battle. Many of those we love will be killed. Nicolas is the only person who will really make you weep one day…but we always feel good after weeping.”