The Washington Post
Late Nights on Airby Elizabeth Hay
The eagerly anticipated novel from the bestselling author of A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs.
Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris,/b>/b>
The eagerly anticipated novel from the bestselling author of A Student of Weather and Garbo Laughs.
Harry Boyd, a hard-bitten refugee from failure in Toronto television, has returned to a small radio station in the Canadian North. There, in Yellowknife, in the summer of 1975, he falls in love with a voice on air, though the real woman, Dido Paris, is both a surprise and even more than he imagined.
Dido and Harry are part of the cast of eccentric, utterly loveable characters, all transplants from elsewhere, who form an unlikely group at the station. Their loves and longings, their rivalries and entanglements, the stories of their pasts and what brought each of them to the North, form the centre. One summer, on a canoe trip four of them make into the Arctic wilderness (following in the steps of the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death in the barrens in 1927), they find the balance of love shifting, much as the balance of power in the North is being changed by the proposed Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline, which threatens to displace Native people from their land.
Elizabeth Hay has been compared to Annie Proulx, Alice Hoffman, and Isabel Allende, yet she is uniquely herself. With unforgettable characters, vividly evoked settings, in this new novel, Hay brings to bear her skewering intelligence into the frailties of the human heart and her ability to tell a spellbinding story. Written in gorgeous prose, laced with dark humour, Late Nights on Air is Hay’s most seductive and accomplished novel yet.
On the shortest night of the year, a golden evening without end, Dido climbed the wooden steps to Pilot’s Monument on top of the great Rock that formed the heart of old Yellowknife. In the Netherlands the light was long and gradual too, but more meadowy, more watery, or else hazier, depending on where you were. . . . Here, it was subarctic desert, virtually unpopulated, and the light was uniformly clear.
On the road below, a small man in a black beret was bending over his tripod just as her father used to bend over his tape recorder. Her father’s voice had become the wallpaper inside her skull, he’d made a home for himself there as improvised and unexpected as these little houses on the side of the Rock — houses with histories of instability, of changing from gambling den to barber shop to sheet metal shop to private home, and of being moved from one part of town to another since they had no foundations.
—From Late Nights On Air
The Washington Post
After being fired from his latest television job, a disgraced Harry Boyd returns to his radio roots in the northern Canadian town of Yellowknife as the manager of a station no one listens to, and finds himself at the center of the station's unlikely social scene. New anchor Dido Paris, both renowned and mocked for her Dutch accent, fled an affair with her husband's father, only to be torn between Harry and another man. Wild child Gwen came to learn radio production, but under Harry's tutelage finds herself the guardian of the late-night shift. And lonely Eleanor wonders if it's time to move south just as she meets an unlikely suitor. While the station members wait for Yellowknife to get its first television station and the crew embarks on a life-changing canoe expedition, the city is divided over a proposal to build a pipeline that would cut across Native lands, bringing modernization and a flood of workers, equipment and money into sacred territory. Hay's crystalline prose, keen details and sharp dialogue sculpt the isolated, hardy residents of Yellowknife, who provide a convincing backdrop as the main cast tromps through the existential woods. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Against the backdrop of a judicial inquiry into a proposed construction of a gas pipeline across the Arctic that would threaten the northern environment and the native way of life, this novel follows an engaging assortment of characters working in the Yellowknife CBC radio station in the mid-1970s Canadian North. Inspired by a radio drama about adventurer John Hornby, who traveled extensively through the Northwest Territory before starving, Gwen Symon arrives as a dewy-eyed newcomer with dreams of working behind the scenes in radio. Mentored by the talented but hard-drinking station manager, Gwen ends up working the late shift on air. She gradually comes into her own, just as radio makes way for television and the station crew begins to disband. Before they do, Gwen and friends set out on a journey to retrace Hornby's route. Equal parts Northern Exposureand Lost in the Barrens, this novel, already the winner of Canada's prestigious Giller Prize, compellingly captures one of the many small moments in which the Canadian North began to lose its essence. A strong choice for all libraries.
“Elizabeth Hay has created her own niche in Canadian fiction by fastening her intelligence on the real stuff — the bumps and glories in love, kinship, friendship.”
— Toronto Star
“Hay exposes the beauty simmering in the heart of harsh settings with an evocative grace that brings to mind Annie Proulx.”
— Washington Post
"Dazzling....A flawlessly crafted and timeless story, masterfully told.” — Jury citation, the Scotiabank Giller Prize
“Exquisite….Hay creates enormous spaces with few words, and makes the reader party to the journey, listening, marvelling….” — Globe and Mail
“This is Hay’s best novel yet.” — Marni Jackson, The Walrus
“Invites comparison with work by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood. Outside Canada, one thinks of A.S. Byatt or Annie Proulx.” — Times Literary Supplement
“Written by a master storyteller.” — Winnipeg Free Press
“Psychologically astute, richly rendered and deftly paced. It’s a pleasure from start to finish.” — Toronto Star
- McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.39(w) x 8.38(h) x 1.02(d)
Read an Excerpt
Harry was in his little house on the edge of Back Bay when at half past twelve her voice came over the radio for the ﬁrst time. A voice unusual in its sound and unusual in itself, since there were no other female announcers on air. He listened to the slow, clear, almost unnatural conﬁdence, the low-pitched sexiness, the elusive accent as she read the local news. More than curious, already in love, he walked into the station the next day at precisely the same time.
It was the beginning of June, the start of the long, golden summer of 1975 when northern light held that little radio station in the large palm of its hand. Eleanor Dew was behind the receptionist’s desk and behind clever Eleanor was the studio. She looked up, surprised. Harry rarely darkened the station door except at night when he came in to do the late shift and got away with saying and playing whatever he liked. He paused beside her desk and with a broad wink asked about the new person on air.
“Hired off the street,” she told him. “The parting shot of our erstwhile manager.”
“Well, well, well,” said Harry.
Despite the red glow of the on-air light, he then pushed through the studio door, only to be met by one of the great mysteries of life. We look so very different from the way we sound. It’s a shock, similar to hearing your own voice for the ﬁrst time, when you’re forced to wonder how the rest of you comes across if you sound nothing like the way you think you sound. You feel dislodged from the old shoe of yourself.
Harry had pictured somebody short and compact with sun-bleached hair, ﬁne blue eyes, great legs, a woman in her thirties. But Dido Paris was tall, big-boned, olive-skinned, younger. Glasses. Thick, dark, springy hair held back off a wide face. Faintest shadow on her upper lip. An unreasonably beautiful woman. She didn’t look up, too intent on the newscast typed in capital letters on green paper, three-part greens, the paper-and-carbon combination the newsmen typed on.
He turned to check who was in the control room. Eddy at the controls and one of the newsmen standing at Eddy’s shoulder. An audience, in other words.
Harry took out his lighter, ﬂicked it, and put the ﬂame to the top corner of the green. And still she didn’t look up.
An upper lip as downy as he imagined her legs might be. And yes, when she stood up later and came around the table, her legs were visible below a loose blue skirt, and the mystery of her voice was solved. She was European. European in her straightforwardness, her appearance, her way of speaking, which was almost too calm, except when the page was alight. Then her voice caught ﬁre. She stopped turning her long pencil end on end, pacing herself. Stopped speaking altogether. Her eyes went in two directions — one leg on shore, the other in the canoe, but the canoe was pulling away from shore and shit — she picked up her glass, poured water on the ﬂames, and read with jolting speed, repressed panic, to the very last word at the bottom of the page.
The news clip came on, she switched off her microphone and looked up wildly at the man with the boyish gleam in his eye. But he wasn’t boyish, he was balding, bespectacled, square-jawed. She noticed his cauliﬂower ear.
“You’re Harry Boyd,” she said.
And she, too, had imagined another face — a big, bushy head to go with the relaxed, late-night growl that she heard only as she fell asleep. The man who’d once been a big name in radio, she’d been told. He was shorter than she’d expected and his hands trembled.
Half an hour later, perched on Dido’s desk, bumming a cigarette, Harry asked her how she’d come by her intriguing accent. She studied him, not quite willing to forgive his outrageous behaviour, until he asked if she was Greek. Then out bubbled her easy and seductive laugh.
No chance. She’d grown up in the Netherlands near the German border, the daughter of a Latin teacher who’d listened to the bbc and written questions to “London Calling” about expressions he didn’t understand. Her father had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and taped programs off the radio. She learned English at school, she told Harry, but her pronunciation was terrible and so she’d asked her father to make some tapes for her, and then she practised her English listening to Margaret Leighton reading Noel Coward and to Noel Coward himself, acquiring in that way her peculiar European-English accent, which she hated. “I ﬁgured marriage to a Canadian would solve my problem, but it hasn’t.”
“Two minutes,” said Harry, “and you’re already breaking my heart.”
“It didn’t last,” she said.
“Then we have something in common, you and I.”
He slipped her glasses off her face and breathed on the lenses and polished them with his handkerchief, then slid them back over her nose, saying, “And Dorothy Parker said men never make passes at girls with glasses.”
“Dorothy. A writerly wit who famously claimed to be ‘too fucking busy and vice versa.’”
Dido was only semi-amused. To Eleanor the next day she called Harry “the loser,” a put-down softened by her accent; it came out “lose-air.” She said he’d taken a drag off her lit cigarette, then set it back on the ashtray. “So cheap,” she said with a shake of her head and a faint, unimpressed smile.
“But not without charm,” countered Eleanor. “Charm, sex, insecurity: that’s what Harry has to offer.”
Dido was more interested now.
“He’s too old for you, Dido.”
But his age was the last thing Dido minded.
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Hay’s fiction includes A Student of Weather, a finalist for The Giller Prize and the Ottawa Book Award, Garbo Laughs, winner of the Ottawa Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, and Small Change (stories). In 2002, she received the Marian Engel Award. Hay worked for cbc Radio in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and Toronto. She lives in Ottawa.
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I just finished read Late Nights on Air and to tell you the truth I hated it. The story was long and boring and I had a hard time staying with it. So many times I was wanted to throw this book in the trash. Very Disappointing.
I had to read Late nights on air for my book club and I was very bored out of my mind. The story really did not go anway where and the charcters were boring. By the end of the book I really didn't care what happened to the characters. If this is how this writer write I won't be reading anymore of her books.
Elizabeth Hay is one great storyteller. She has created a collection of flawed, very human characters with only a few, precise words. Being the northern city of Yellowknife one of them. I cannot praised this marvelous, wondrous novel enough. A must read.