I remember when I fell in love with a work of fiction.
The year was 2014, and I was underground riding the TTC. Sitting alone and smiling to myself after a particularly whimsical sentence, I was halfway through reading Heather O’Neill’s second book, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Suddenly a shadow fell over me, and I felt a tap on my shoulder. Jarred out of my reverie, I looked up. A scruffy man with kind eyes was staring down at me.
“Pardon me, miss – but I just had to say,” he began timidly.
“Yes?” I questioned, unintentionally annoyed at the interruption.
“I- I just had to say that the book you’re reading must really be wonderful… your face and your smile were just shining with happiness.”
I was taken by surprise; I lowered my eyes and blushed.
“It makes me want to read that book, too,” he quickly added, backing away.
“The book is called The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by a Canadian author from Montréal, named Heather O’Neill,” I blurted out, not wanting him to feel bad for embarrassing me in such a sweet way.
He scurried away, ready to exit the train. “You can get it from your local library!” I called out after him. He turned back to thank me, then stepped out of my life forever.
This book, that sentence, and the moment solidified my love for Heather O’Neill. I have an unshakable loyalty to people, things, and situations that leave an impact on my life.
I had previously read Heather’s debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals – a sad tale set in Montréal revolving around a twelve-year-old protagonist named Baby. I’ve always had a love affair with Montréal, and the charming island city is featured in all three of her novels. Heather’s playful, romantic style infused with a melancholic reality speaks to me in a way that I’ve never encountered before. By the time I had finished her second novel, I was hooked.
Not too long ago, I noticed by chance that she would be visiting the Toronto Reference Library to promote her new book, The Lonely Hearts Hotel. I was excited; I could make it! I reserved two free seats and convinced a friend I hadn’t seen in awhile to join me at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon for Heather O’Neill: Hotels, Orphans and Geniuses.
We showed up early, ordered fancy wine, and scanned the already-full room. There were seats available at the back… but there were also a few rows available right at the front. We sauntered over; reserved! Dang. We plopped ourselves down anyway and waited to get kicked out.
What I loved most about this book talk with Heather O’Neill was the sincerity in it; it was more a conversation between herself and Joshua Knelman, (co-founder of The Walrus magazine) about her life, her art, and her views on things. I got a sense of who Heather was by the questions Josh asked, and how Heather answered.
I was a little star-struck, I must say. Heather is an entirely enthralling person to be in the same room with. I left that evening with a dreamy mind and stars in my eyes.