It’s 1975 when beautiful Dido Paris arrives at the radio station in Yellowknife, a frontier town in the Canadian north. She disarms hard-bitten broadcaster Harry Boyd and electrifies the station, setting into motion rivalries both professional and sexual.
As the drama at the station unfolds, a proposed gas pipeline threatens to rip open the land and inspires many people to find their voices for the first time.This is the moment before television conquers the north’s attention, when the fate of the Arctic hangs in the balance.
After the snow melts, members of the radio station take a long canoe trip into the Barrens, a mysterious landscape of lingering ice and infinite light that exposes them to all the dangers of the ever-changing air.
Spare, witty, and dynamically charged, this compelling tale embodies the power of a place and of the human voice to generate love and haunt the memory.
|Edition description:||First Trade Paper Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About 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.
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.
Harry was forty-two. Winds of ill repute had blown him back up on these shores - a man with a nearly forgotten reputation for brilliance, one of those lucky luckless people who finds his element early on and then makes the mistake of leaving it - radio for a television talk show, where he'd bombed. In short order, he was fired, his personal life fell apart, rumours rose up and settled down. A year ago an old boss stumbled across him sleeping in a hotel lobby in Toronto and pulled a few strings to get him a night shift in the Northern Service, the very place where he'd started out fifteen years ago. At square one again, but with a difference. Now he was an old fish in a small pond.
And yet it suited him - the place, the hours, the relative obscurity.
Stories about him circulated: how he had numerous exwives, and a tremendous tolerance for liquor, and some dark deed in his past - some disgrace. Professional, certainly. Sexual? No one was quite sure. His cauliflower ear suggested a life touched by violence. His trembling hands sent granules of instant coffee scattering in all directions. "Harry's been here," they would say in the morning, surveying the little table that held mugs, spoons, the electric kettle, the big jar of Maxwell House.
In that first conversation Harry asked Dido about her husband, tell me all about him, and she jested that she'd married almost the first person who asked her, a fellow student at McGill, but when he brought her from Montreal through the gates of his rich Halifax neighbourhood, she saw his father in the driveway. "And we just looked at each other," she said, turning the oversized man's watch on her wrist in what Harry would come to understand was a yearning, nervous habit. "We just looked." Harry saw them, a man and woman unable to take their eyes off each other, and the picture cut into his heart.
After a moment Dido shrugged, but her face still ran with longing and regret. The situation became impossible, she admitted. She escaped the triangle by coming north.
"And your father-in-law let you go?"
She gestured towards the entrance of the station. "I half expect him to come through that door."
* * *
The radio station occupied a quiet corner a block away from main street. It had been an electrical supplies store once, Top Electric, and was that size. A one-storey shoebox in a town that had sprung up in the 1930s on the gold-rich shores of Great Slave Lake, an inland sea one-third the size of troubled Ireland.
Entering, the first person you saw was Eleanor Dew, who managed to be pretty even though no part of her was pretty. She had rather bulging eyes and a chin that blended into her throat, yet she gave off an idea of Blondness, a sort of radiance that came from having her feet on the ground and her head in heaven. At thirty-six she was almost the oldest person in the station and a poet at heart, reading Milton between phone calls - the community announcements coming in, the complaints and song requests, the mixture of personal and business calls for the six announcer-operators or the two newsmen or the station manager, who had run off with a waitress a week ago.
Her desk stood next to a plate-glass window that overlooked the dusty street leading up to the Gold Range, also known as the Strange Range, and to Franklin Avenue, the main street with two stoplights. Turn left on Franklin Avenue and you passed on one side MacLeod's Hardware and the Hudson's Bay Store and on the other side the Capitol Theatre with its third-run movies and fifth-rate popcorn machine. Continue on in the same direction through the newest part of New Town, and then angle left, and eventually you came around to Cominco, one of the two operating gold mines that gave the town its initial reason for being. If, instead, you turned right on Franklin Avenue you passed the Yellowknife Inn on one side and the post office on the other, you passed the public library and the clothing store known as Eve of the Arctic. Proceed in a down-sloping northerly direction and you reached the oldest part of Old Town, an array of little houses and shacks and log cabins and privies, of Quonset huts and trailers and motley businesses, all of which seemed perfectly at ease on this rocky peninsula under the enormous sky. Well, they weren't competing with it. Yellowknife had only one high-rise and it wasn't on main street, it was a lonely apartment building in the southeastern part of town.
A rudimentary place of ten thousand people named after an indigenous tribe that used knives made of copper, and in many ways it was a white blot on the native landscape. But it was as far north as most southerners had ever come. It was north of the sixtieth parallel and shared in the romance of the North, emanating not mystery but uniqueness and not right away. It had no breathtaking scenery. No mountains, no glaciers, in the winter not even that much snow. But after a while it grew on them, on some of them at least, on the ones who would never forget, who would think back on their lives and say, My time there was the most vivid time in my life.
Only two stoplights, perhaps, but such a traffic in voices. That summer a small but steady parade of poets came through town, unconnected to the parade of experts addressing Judge Berger at his inquiry into what would be, if it went ahead, the largest single development project ever undertaken in the Western world, a gas pipeline running across the top of the Arctic and down the eight-hundred-mile-length of the Mackenzie River. Politics overshadowed poetry, as it always does. The poets came one at a time throughout the summer, a modest incursion and the first of its kind, organized by a local poetry lover and financed by the national council for the arts. The pipeline experts came in droves, it seemed, gathering at the gleaming white Explorer Hotel that dominated the road on the way to the airport. It was a time when Yellowknife was on the map, when the North was on everyone's minds, when the latest scheme to extract its riches had gained so much ground that this summer of 1975 took on the mythical quality of a cloudless summer before the outbreak of war, or before the onset of the kind of restlessness, social, spiritual, that remakes the world.
Harry went to a few of the literary readings at the public library. He went with Eleanor, who wrote poetry for her own pleasure, until he lost patience with what he called the empty wordplay. How can a poem last, he cried, if it doesn't touch your heart? You might remember the poet, he declared, but you won't remember the poem. To underscore his point he typed out verses from a poem he admired and taped them to the wall in the one and only announce booth, where their message about death and its haunting aftermath was like a skull sitting on the console. The poem was by Alden Nowlan, who came from Harry's part of southern New Brunswick, and it described the foolish time in the poet's life when he worked alone at night in a radio station and couldn't believe anyone was listening, for "it seemed I was talking / only to myself in a room no bigger / than an ordinary bathroom." Then one day he had to cover a fatal collision between a car and a train, and Nowlan the broadcaster turned into Nowlan the appalled listener. "Inside the wreckage" of the car, three young men were dead, but the car radio was still playing and "nobody could get at it" to turn it off. Across the top margin Harry scrawled, Do you ever wonder where your voice goes?
The more personal question he avoided asking himself. How had he ended up back here, where he'd started, in the little rabbit warren of rooms known as CFYK? Sitting in the announce booth, feeling his own life collide with itself.
Eleanor was the station's gatekeeper. From her desk she controlled access to a single hallway that led like a short main street directly through the guts of the station to an exit that tumbled you back out into the northern summer - to a garbage bin full to overflowing with tape so edited, so beknuckled and thickened with white splicing tape as to be deemed unsalvageable, finally, by the head technician in his basement lair. Crusty Andrew McNab presided over the station's nether region of workbenches, labelled shelves, crowded corners, and his own tidy desk. For seventeen years he'd practised frugality and extravagant disdain, fathead being his favourite term for anyone conceited enough to go on air.
Andrew's wasn't the only lair. The newsroom, just large enough for two newsmen and two desks and one editing machine, was another. Its firmly closed door lay directly in the line of fire between Eleanor's desk and the front door of the station through which the town's characters liked to come. Mrs. Dargabble, for instance, with her lofty, loquacious, regular plea for classical music. I don't expect opera, but a little Mozart from time to time? Eleanor couldn't have agreed more. She wrote down the request, then tossed it sadly into the wastebasket as soon as the poor woman turned her back, since there was no hope, she knew. No hope for Mozart in Yellowknife.
Until Harry Boyd passed by one day recently and rumbled at the hefty, flapping, fragile woman, "Do you like Lucia Popp?"
"She sings the Queen of the Night," said the startled Mrs. Dargabble.
"Tonight I'll play her for you. Turn on your radio at midnight."
"You marvellous man. You understand."
By now Harry was haunting the station at all hours and it was obvious to everyone why. He wanted to be around Dido Paris.
"How will I recognize him?" Harry had asked her, his voice a-growl with mock irony and serious intent. "This fancy man of yours. Your father-in-law."
She had a long, slow smile. "You're a romantic, Harry."
"I'm not ashamed of it."
He saw her face give way once again to such tender sadness that his lonely insides twisted and tightened. But then he took heart. "You like older men."
Dido leaned back and laughed at him. "Harry, you're so transparent."
He wasn't ashamed of that either. He recognized in Dido a deep streak of melancholy that he happened to share, and he was fascinated, not least by a childhood he guessed was partly to blame. Holland after the war. Not Holland, she corrected. The Netherlands. She told him her mother sewed warm winter pants for her from old army uniforms and she had to wear pyjamas underneath, otherwise the khaki chafed her thighs and made them bleed. At the look on his face, she smiled and touched his arm. It wasn't so bad, she said. In a way, I didn't mind. And you won't believe how much I miss what I ate then, chocolate sprinkles on bread, we put the butter on top of the sprinkles to keep them in place, and speculaas - you know? the Dutch windmill cookie? - between two slices of buttered bread. I bicycled to school and took that for my lunch. Her voice had a buoyant, velvety sound. Sensual, but not so sensual it lost energy or authority. Had her father been her teacher? he wanted to know. Not officially, she said, and she grew pensive again. Her father had died quite recently, in March, still listening to the BBC. At the time of his death she'd been here, substitute teaching Math and French at the local high school, a job that merely met her need to be as far away as possible from her romantic entanglements. After her father's death she felt impelled to rethink her life. In a first step, she came to the station offering to volunteer. "And the rest is history," said Harry.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Late Nights on Air"
Copyright © 2007 Elizabeth Hay.
Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Reading Group Guide
1. Harry Boyd, an admitted romantic, tries to make an impression on Dido Paris by setting her news script on fire while she is on the air. Fire is an ancient metaphor for passion, and Late Nights on Air could be described as an anthology of romantic love. Mrs. Dargabble’s first husband had urged her to "jump," and many of the characters do, with differing results — from the sexually charged union of Eddy and Dido to more gradual entanglements. Discuss the varieties of love present in this small, isolated community. Which ones strike you as the most successful?
2. One of Elizabeth Hay's great novelistic strengths is her sense of place and the ways she knits her characters into their settings. In her first novel, A Student of Weather, the places included Saskatchewan, New York City, and Ottawa; her second novel, Garbo Laughs, is set in Ottawa, most memorably during the ice storm of 1998. In Late Nights on Air, set in Yellowknife and the North, the sense of place and her characters' relationship to it is particularly intense. Sometimes readers talk about a novel's setting as if it were a character in itself. Do you think that is the case in Late Nights on Air? What descriptions of place, in Yellowknife or on the canoe trip into the Arctic wilderness, have stayed with you most? How does the sense of place work to underscore and echo the characters and their situations or to contrast with them?
3. In Late Nights on Air, fictional characters interact with a real, contemporary person, Judge Thomas Berger. Although they only interact with him minimally and formally, Berger and his commission are important components in the novel. Discuss Berger’s approach and personality, the ways in which it informs the Inquiry, and the place of the man and the Inquiry in Late Nights on Air.
4. Late Nights on Air begins with Harry falling in love with the sound of Dido's voice. In the novel, Gwen finds her radio voice — both in the sense of finding an attractive physical voice and in the sense of expressing her own personality. Voice and sound in general are natural preoccupations for people who work in radio, and the novel pays consistent attention to them, from Gwen's fascination with sound effects to the voices of the announcers (in English and Dogrib), and the many descriptions of natural sounds and music. Discuss some of the ways Elizabeth Hay uses voice to characterize her men and women, and to highlight her larger themes.
5. Elizabeth Hay says in her acknowledgements that the story of the adventurer John Hornby was always at the back of this book. A fascination with Hornby and Edgar Christian is one of the things Gwen and Harry have in common, and the explorers' cabin is the destination of the canoe trip that takes Harry and Gwen, Eleanor and Ralph into the wilderness, where their lives will change forever. Does Hornby’s story of a quixotic and doomed exploration connect with, and perhaps comment on, the story of the modern characters — and if so, in what ways?
6. One of the most sophisticated elements in an Elizabeth Hay novel is the fact that her flawed characters don’t find any conversion or easy resolution: Dido, for example, cannot bear criticism, and Harry, a veteran radio man, can’t separate his personal failure in television from the medium in general. Problems don’t get neatly wrapped up in Late Nights on Air, and the characters, though changed, in many ways end as imperfect as they began. Discuss some of the things that the characters have learned in the end — about each other and about themselves. Discuss some of the situations or personalities that never get "fixed," and the particular flavour this gives the book.
7. Harry's relationship with Dido is never really fulfilled, but Harry’s yearning remains largely undiminished. What do you think the author is saying about human beings in general?
8. Just before he died, Eleanor's father was reading her the French story of "la fille qui était laide" — a girl so ugly that she hid herself in the forest where the fresh air, sun, and wind made her beautiful. The narrator tells us that, in the summer of 1975, a version of that story would unfold. The theme of this kind of transformation has been seen before in an Elizabeth Hay novel (A Student of Weather). Who is the transformed woman in Late Nights on Air — or should it be "women"? How does it happen?
9. Discuss Dido and her personality, and how she powerfully affects each of the characters — Harry, Gwen, Eleanor, Eddy. To what extent is she affected by her past? Where does her power really lie? Is she, in fact, as confident and strong as she seems?
10. There are frequent instances of foreshadowing in Late Nights on Air. The narrator writes, for example, about three unfortunate things that would happen to Harry in the coming winter, and in another place that "the events of the following summer would make these pictures of Ralph's almost unbearably moving." The reader is regularly pulled into the characters' futures, but without knowing the details. In what way does foreshadowing function in the novel? How does it affect your reading experience?
11. Eleanor, who is reading William James's Varieties of Religious Experience, has a religious awakening in the course of the book. Most of the other characters don’t share her connection with institutionalized religion, but there is a strong undercurrent of spirituality in the book, felt differently by different characters. Discuss the varieties of religious or spiritual experience you find in the book.
12. There is an elegiac tone in Late Nights on Air, and a sense that an older, more human way of life is disappearing, as radio gives way to television and as the traditional ways of the North are threatened by the pipeline and, more generally, by the South. Where are the shades of grey in the conflict between old ways and "progress"? Does the novel give you a sense of where the novelist stands on this?
13. John Hornby’s biographer, George Whalley, tells Gwen that both he and his subject approach life "'crabwise,' meaning sideways and backwards rather than head-on." Harry likes this idea of "a wandering route notable for its 'digressions and divagations'.... A route of the soul, perhaps." Does "crabwise," in the sense Hay is using the term, suggest something of the structure chosen for Late Nights on Air? In what way does this approach reflect the characters’ yearnings and the way they are able to express themselves? Is this true of human beings in general?
14. "Gwen found herself thinking about the vulnerable rivers and birds and plants and animals and old ways of life." She learns, for example, that an oil spill, in turning the ice black, ruins its reflective power so that it absorbs light and melts, thus changing the environment. At one of its deepest levels, this is a book about ecology, about the fragile interdependence of people, animals and their environment. Discuss the ways this plays out in Late Nights on Air.
15. In addition to its rewards, the canoe trip taken by Harry, Eleanor, Gwen, and Ralph has its share of ordeals, including Harry and Eleanor getting lost, Gwen’s encounter with a bear, and Ralph’s fate. Discuss the various ways in which the characters are de-stabilized and reoriented in the course of the trip, and how the trip impacts upon their lives later.
16. Dido is so different in her relationship with Harry than she is with Eddy. What is it about the two men — and what is it about Dido — that cause such different responses?
17. This is a book where couples are often frustrated and love is not reciprocated or is cut off too soon — Harry and Dido, Dido and Eddy (a relationship that endures but on unknown terms), Eleanor and Ralph. Perhaps unexpectedly, an unconventional couple comes together at the end of the book. Were you surprised? Are there hints throughout the book? Does it work for you?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Overall, an uninspiring read. While the first 50 pages or so were somewhat interesting, the middle 150 pages were boring ¿ nothing of note really happens. Hay has too many storylines competing for the reader¿s attention ¿ the characters at the radio station, the government commission on the pipeline, and the Hornby expedition. A good editing job would have improved the book.
is it possible that this book was marketed to the wrong crowd? that's the only thing i can think of that would explain all the poor reader ratings. this is easily one of my favorites.
I picked this book up when I was in Montreal. It is a Giller Prize Winner and was also on the staff recommendation shelf. It even has a sticker on the front that says, ¿Le choix d¿Heather.¿ I didn¿t meet Heather while I was there (although I did get a recommendation from another employee on that visit), but I like the idea that she thought I would like this book. She was right.Late Nights on Air captures a few months in the lives of the employees of a small radio station in Northern Canada during the mid-1970s. Each character is unique (quirky, almost) and precisely described. We learn about them through their approach to their work at the radio station, their relationships with each other, and their connections to the natural environment around them. All of the characters have faults and seem to be trying to find themselves. We are provided with an omniscient view of this identity work and get to figure out, along with the characters, who they are and who they are becoming. The small town of Yellowknife and the wilderness that surrounds it play an important role in the story. The weather patterns of the North ¿ long winter nights followed by endless summer sunlight ¿ affect the characters and infuse the story with a sense of place. The second half of the story takes place during a journey that four of the characters take into the wilderness, and it is in this setting that the characters have the space to figure out who they are. This book excels as a description of a slice of life. It is not a plot-driven story. In fact, the story itself simply provides a gentle undercurrent that helps us understand the characters better. This works beautifully, except when the plot is pushed to the forefront. There is some extensive foreshadowing of a few of the plot elements, and that felt invasive to me, breaking the flow of the book. But that is a small complaint about this wonderfully written book. In fact, it is the exquisite writing that is my favorite aspect of this book. The prose is like poetry at times, gentle and rhythmic. There are a thousand phrases that I wish I¿d jotted down, but this one, from the first page of the book, will have to suffice:¿In 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.¿ I began this book with no preconceived notions, except that Heather chose this as one of her picks. Perhaps that¿s why I was able to settle into it so comfortably and enjoy the portrait that Hay so aptly draws with her words. I felt like I'd discovered a lovely surprise!Highly recommended!
Late Nights On Air was a good read, but didn't capture my full attention. I like the author's writing style, but felt the plot dipped in a few spots.
This novel is deeply embedded in Canada's north. It conjured up the bleakness, isolation and danger of those distant lands in a convincing and fascinating way. I enjoyed every chapter.I did find that there was a bit too much foreshadowing, which in the end seemed unjustified, but that's only a minor quibble. The background detail of disastrous Arctic explorations gave an interesting historical aspect, while the more recent impact of the 1970s Berger inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline was also educational in its recognition of the rights of Canada's aboriginal peoples.In the end, the story seemed to be about the arbitrary nature of human lives, loves, and losses, as well as the deep impact that one individual can have on those they meet.
Harry Boyd, once a successful radio personality, returns to the medium after a disastrous experiment in television. Disgraced, he becomes the acting manager of a radio station in the remote northern Canadian town of Yellowknife, bemoaning all the while the incursion of television into radio¿s territory and protesting the coming of the town¿s first television station. Yellowknife itself is a haven for misfits, loners, criminals, and people running away from life; and indeed, all of Harry¿s coworkers at the station fit into one or more of those categories, including Harry himself. Smoky-voiced goddess Dido Paris, the station¿s newest and most popular newsreader, fled her marriage after an ill-conceived affair with her father-in-law, only to find herself the object of contention between earnest loser Harry and dangerous rogue Eddy, the station¿s taciturn engineer. Erudite and eccentric book-reviewer Ralph quietly nurses deep affection for receptionist Eleanor, another refugee from a bad marriage. And awkward ingenue Gwen Symon turns up in Yellowknife almost by accident, drawn north by childhood memories of a radio program about northern explorer John Hornby and her romantic notions of a career in radio, only to find herself stuttering and inarticulate on-air and relegated to the late-night shift when no one is listening.The small dramas of the characters¿ every day lives play out against the expansive backdrop of the Northwest Territory¿s frozen wastes and the larger drama of a potential oil pipeline cutting through the sacred lands of the native peoples of the region. Exquisitely observed are both the awe-inspiring and deadly environment into which Harry, Gwen, Eleanor, and Ralph fling themselves on a weeks-long hiking trip which will prove life-changing to them all, and the more mundane, quotidian details of life in a small town hovering on the edge of both civilization and of modernization.
Started paging through this and was immediately captivated by the quality of the writing. Started reading and stayed up most of a night in order to stay wrapped in the author's splendidly crafted environment and characters.
A character in Elizabeth's book describes good script writing as having simplicity, directness, and intimacy. Late Night on Air achieves all three. Whether we love or hate the main characters by the end of the book, we also know them as well as our own skin. And we know something of the north--its timeless fragility, and its ability to both save and destroy those who venture there.
First, I love public broadcasting. The relationships that Hay portrays in this story are REAL, they are so reflective of the actual familial development that happens in a small radio station. Second, I love (the idea) of adventure travel. So traveling with this group on the Barrens was only amazing to me. I was wrapped up in this. I absolutely loved it.
I liked this book so much more than I expected to. It was given to me by a friend who wanted to know if it was accurate, since I grew up in Yellowknife, NWT, where the book's events take place. Actually, the book is set in the 1970's, around the time when my parents would have moved to the 'knife. I'll have to send the book along to my mom and find out if her descriptions of what the town was like at this time are accurate. I can speak from my own experience that her descriptions of the landscape are both accurate and poetic.Hay's narrative style is compelling and insidious. I don't mean that in an entirely good way. Her style does have a certain pompous feel to it that I tend to find in "criticly acclaimed" novels. Early in the story, I kept noticing it and being annoyed. Within a few chapters, however, I was completely involved with her characters. She gets inside your head. Her understanding of character is such that the people in her books feel alive in all their glories and sorrows.This book really captures frontier feel of Northern life that is close to unique in the last 50 years. I recommend this book for anyone interested in Canada's North, and also for anyone who just loves a well-written tale. Side note: Late Nights on Air touches on many of the issues of the time, most notably land claims, native rights, and the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. If you're going to read this book and you're not familiar with these issues, it might be worth hitting wikipedia before you crack open the book.
A few thoughts:I found this book very romantic in a less conventional sense... Reminds me of Joni Mitchell's Case of You song. You might have to love Canada to love this book (though you may not love this book even if you do love Canada).Some passages were a little heavy handed... but I think that this book resonated so deeply with my sense of romance, adventure and Canadianism that I don't care at all.I think I'll read everything you ever write from now on, Elizabeth Hay
The first half of the book sets down the foundation of flawed characters who slowly woo you into the landscape of the North, its isolation, yet the closeness and intimacy of their township, and the realism and authenticity of their unique, yet easily recognizable personalities. They are rich and substantial, lacking stereotype. And their relationships with one another reveal their longings, their failings, and their complexities---especially in the forms of love.The latter half of the novel becomes an expedition into the Barrens of Yellowknife, a lovely, yet detailed and intelligent view of a land rarely visited or seen by man. It weaves Canada¿s historical pioneering heroes while documenting the northern wilderness. At the same time, the characters themselves experience the glory of its vastness, abundance, and beauty, while resisting and overcoming its treachery and harshness. It is a story about journeying, crossing boundaries, and surviving. Not only in the extreme climates of the northern wilderness, but also of the extreme climates of relationship and love. The characters who you come to care for are intelligent, witty, passionate, humbling, and resilient.It¿s a beautiful and beautifully written novel.
I truly enjoyed this book. Elizabeth Hay's writing captured the dichotomy of the Arctic, it's beauty and danger, how fragile the environment is, yet how enduring remnants from the past can be. The characters of the book were as fragile and enduring as their environment. This is a book I will definitely be re-reading, one from which I took many quotes. Beautifully written.
Having lived in Canada's far North, it was the fact that Late Nights on Air is set in Yellowknife which attracted me to the novel. I was impressed with the authenticity of Hay's portrayal of life beyond the tree line. The characters, all of whom are originally from somewhere other than Yellowknife, are original, well-drawn, and memorable. Indeed, the North is not for the faint of heart!
Good, effortless reading. The story revolves around a group of people connected to the CBC radio station in Yellowknife in 1970s, and centers on their relationships. The people come and go, seem transient, don't want to stay there, but the bonds they form there endure.I felt the North was there in a bigger capacity than just the background, and not only in terms of nature, even though it was its most prominent role there no doubt; it endured too, but also in the snippets of everyday northern life, native issues and current events like the work of the Berger Commission.
An odd, frustrating, exhilarating, life-affirming, low-key, thoughtful book. It won the Giller Prize and comes recommended with comparisons to Annie Proulx and Alice Munro. Yet too many times I was considering not finishing it, and some when I felt like throwing it across the room. Hay is masterful at creating the atmosphere of the Far North ¿ Yellowknife and the northern barrens. Her portrayal of life in a radio station in 1975 also rings true. However, throughout the first two thirds of the 360-page book I found the central characters unlikable and difficult to care about. The key passage of the book, when the four take a six-week canoeing trip in the northern isolation had me howling, ¿What a waste,¿ foreseeing the inevitable end to their trek. But there are also many lovely images and passages. Towards the end of the book a grey, gaunt mangy fox is captured by animal control officers and we are told ¿the fox had seemed magical to her. A creature from one world passing through another. But he didn¿t make it.¿ Each of the characters can be seen as working on passing through one world to another, usually not making it. The inevitable sadness of relationships is central, with people misunderstanding, missing out, looking the wrong way, ¿since isn¿t it the hardest lesson in the world, learning to appreciate people if you¿ve never felt appreciated?¿ The real life hero of the novel is Justice Thomas Berger who was commissioned by the Canadian government to examine the implications of building a pipeline through the north. Berger, contrary to all cynical expectations of the power of big money and influence, spent three years truly listening to all, going from native village to village, compiled 40,000 pages of testimony, and recommended ¿no pipeline now, and no pipeline across northern Yukon ever.¿ It is against the background of Berger¿s quiet decency and eventual heroic stand that the plot of the novel unfolds, with lives marked by indecision, lacking ardent drama. The low-key characters seem for much of it plodding and anemic. In the end, though, there are rewards for the reader; the conclusion is quietly satisfying, supporting a reluctant recommendation.
The foreshadowing in this book is really clunky and terribly obvious, and for most of the book I felt like I was getting hit over the head with a CanCon stick. The last third of the book, the canoe trip, is better than the rest but still, I can't understand the selection for the Giller.
The story of a young woman beginning her career in radio broadcasting in Canada in the 1970s. Not having much luck finding work at the CBC in Toronto, she finds her first position in Yellowknife where she meets an interesting mix of people. I found this book to be beautifully written and evocative of life in the North. I could easily relate to the main character and was drawn into the fast pace of the second half of the book.
The phrase I would use to describe this book is that it is smoother book. It is slower to get started, you don't feel the need to read large chunks for hours and hours on end, especially at the start. Yet it is an enjoyable and comfortable book. Not heavy reading, not chick lit. It does make you think, and eventually pulls you in, although it takes a bit longer to get to that point.This is the kind of book it is really fun to be reading when you have a few books on the go at any time. Best read in short bursts. I do think it s a book worth coming back to.The book centers around a small group working in a small radio station in the NWT. Aside from the people who have been there all their lives, most have come either fleeing something or looking for something. In most cases both. They are trying to find themselves in a landscape that is very different from what they have come from.The book does a great job of describing the summers of endless light. Since the focus is on the parts where they are outdoors, it tends to rush a bit over the winter. Given how long winter is in the NWT, I would have liked to experience more of that.The book really takes off once they start planning a canoe trip to see the remains of Hornby's cabin (He and his crew starved in the Barrens) and I loved reading about the trip. I also loved the references to other books, and growing up with books. I have written down a few titles that I am going to have to add to my ever-growing wishlist.I think this book is a bit like the north itself. A little bit different, perhaps a little bit slower or more subtle. But definitely very interesting and well worth the trip.
Patience is essential to reading this novel. Sluggish, ill-focused and fraught with heavy-handed foreshadowing, it didn't grab my attention at any point and I had a really hard time plodding through it. It was poorly constructed: the main character Dido mysteriously disappeared half-way through the novel; the secondary character sort of took over but there was no growth in her relationship with others and the story finishes in a flourish in a desperate attempt to tie all the loose ends. A disappointment.
Not my normal choice of reading but had to read it as my brother gave it to me. He was moved by the references made by Dido to Nijmegan Holland which is where my parents grew up. Expessions like"you need a bicycle to get to the raisins" were used by my father growing up in our house.Still I did not really engage with the characters. There was too much forshadowing. What i did like was the descritions of winter weather and descriptions of the scenery during the canoe trip.
This is the Giller Prize Winner for 2007. It is the story of a group of people, mostly whites from southern Canada, who are working at a Yellowknife radio station in the 1970s. It tells a bit of their past lives and what brought them to the North, and delves into their relationships with each other, and with finding or running away from themselves.I liked the sparsely written style of the book. I was very interested in the characters and how they turned out, but wasn't deeply affected by any of them -- even deaths and lost love lacked a sense of poignancy. I think the inordinate amount of overt foreshadowing dulled any sense of shock or surprise I might otherwise have felt. The background story of the real-life Berger Inquiry into northern development was well done and added a lot of context about attachments to place and to wanting to control your way of life.
Following the intimate interrelationships of a group working at the local radio station in Yellowknife. This book has a placid, easy pacing to it, allowing you to dip your toe in, as it were, to the lives and insights of the characters. I felt compelled to read this book, and thought about it often while i wasn't reading it, but I never connected emotionally with anyone. There were two major death incidents that didnt affect me emotionally, nor did I feel any sense of resolution when the book finished. I did however feel that the book was honest, and beautifully written.
This Giller Prize winner is, quite appropriately, the quintessentially Canadian book. Hay describes royal commissions, canoe trips, aboriginal rights, the North, CBC radio, radio plays, and ice fishing, all in ways that are both boring and appealing. The book starts as a young woman moves to Yellowknife, hoping to discover the North and finds a career in radio drama. At the radio station she discovers a group of people who share her obsession with the North, a love of radio, and a history of running away. In the background, Yellowknife, and its Dene peoples are trying to use a sympathetic Royal Commission to block the building of a pipeline through the pristine northern wilderness. The climax of the book is a canoe trip trough the Yukon backwaters as the people of the radio try to recreate the journey of a famous explorer. Parts of the book are wonderfully written and one is particularly moved by the language Hay uses to describe the barren, north landscape. The one weakness of the book, however, is that the cast of characters is too large, and one fails to care even when disaster strikes. Similarly, while I deeply enjoyed the way the story of the canoe trip provided a climax, the author to visit the characters in later life, provided unnecessary, and seemingly trivial, closure to the book.
For an award winning book (Giller Prize 2007), I was surprised at how "normal" the plotline and writing style are. By that I mean the plot is linear, the POV is thirdperson though varies as to whose perspective is shown. It's fairly normal, as far as novels go. But don't let that fool you -- this book is layered and very well written.Descriptions are strong without wordiness; the characters have depth and experience growth; the 1970's Yellowknife Radio Station setting is unique, too. Plus the integration of the debate over putting up a gasline through the region and the potential consequences to the land and the people native to the region makes for a great story.