I heard about this book because the author was part of a panel about the arts in Montreal on a BBC Arts and Culture show. The book traces the lives of two orphans in the Montreal of the turn of the century and depression.
O’Neill’s two central characters are Rose and Pierrot, both of who’s birth is less than wanted By rights, both should have died. By tracing their lives, O’Neill looks at how gender can affect the outcome of life. At first, it seems that Pierrot is going to have the easier life but, well things change.
O’Neill’s novel is blunt, very blunt, when it comes to describing sex, and the blunt non-romantic passages contrast with the almost fairy tale quality of the novel. O’Neill transforms Montreal of the 1900s-1930s to an almost magical place with the description. There are some beautiful passages –like the Montreal rat worrying about New York rats.
It is O’Neill’s use of language and humor that carries the book. The magic that Rose and Pierrot install in their audience is what O’Neill does to the reader. The book makes the real world feel fake. It is like reading a slight less gothic Angela Carter book. The language draws the reader into the story and keeps the reader imprisoned. And it isn’t a bad imprisonment.
The book is something like a fairy tale and something like a fable. There is magic but it is the magic of life.