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Book: When We Lost Our Heads

When We Lost Our Heads

By Heather O'Neill
Published in 2022 by HarperCollins
Finished reading: October 23rd, 2022
Rating: 5 / 5


A spellbinding story about two young women whose friendship is so intense it not only threatens to destroy them, it changes the course of history. Marie Antoine is the charismatic, spoiled daughter of a sugar baron. At age twelve, with her pile of blond curls and unparalleled sense of whimsy, she’s the leader of all the children in the Golden Mile, the affluent strip of nineteenth-century Montreal where powerful families live. Until one day in 1873, when Sadie Arnett, dark-haired, sly and brilliant, moves to the neighbourhood. Marie and Sadie are immediately inseparable. United by their passion and intensity, they attract and repel each other in ways that set them both on fire. Marie, with her bubbly charm, sees all the pleasure of the world, whereas Sadie’s obsession with darkness is all-consuming. Soon, their childlike games take on the thrill of danger and then become deadly.


I’m not quite sure where to start with this novel other than to say it’s amazing and completely engrossing. The way the characters’ stories are wound and twisted together is incredible. The reflections on class, gender, and poverty are incredible. The suspense, the psychology of all the characters is incredible. The paths each character takes to wind up crossing are incredible. It’s all just incredible, and the backdrop of late 19th-century Montreal makes it even moreso.

I really enjoyed this book, as I have with everything else of Heather O’Neill’s I’ve read. She has a way with difficult themes and infuriating characters and circumstances that doesn’t feel forced or gratuitous. I always come away feeling it’s all exactly as it should be, never wondering why a certain plot was included or a certain character not developed more fully.

This novel has been called “historical feminist fiction” and yeah, I get it, those are probably three very good words to describe it but it also feels a little simplistic as categories most often do. Just about all the characters in the novel are women, from the very wealthy, spoiled main character to the prostitutes at the brothel, to the workers in the factory, to the maids and pharmacy owner. All those uninterrupted-by-male-character perspectives made for a clearer picture of these women’s lives and experiences that I constantly found myself thankful for.