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4.5 of 5
4 ratings
list price: $22
also available: Paperback Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: Apr 2008
imprint: Emblem Editions

Late Nights on Air

by Elizabeth Hay

reviews: 1
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4.5 of 5
4 ratings
list price: $22
also available: Paperback Hardcover
category: Fiction
published: Apr 2008
imprint: Emblem Editions

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

Contributor Notes

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

  • , IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
  • Winner, Scotiabank Giller Prize
Editorial Review

#1 National Bestseller

“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

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Reader Reviews

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Late nights with Hay

After so much critical acclaim I was somewhat disapointed with the novel.

Full review originally posted here: http://katiclops.wordpress.com/2012/08/22/late-nights-with-hay/

Despite really struggling to finish the novel (at page 256 to be precise), I’m happy I finished it. Broadly, I think this would make a fantastic, hilarious and beautiful movie.My main struggles with the book surrounded the following (some spoilers-beware!):

1. Pacing
When I was first recommended the book, I was told it was a history of Canadian radio in the North. The next couple people who mentioned it explained that it was a story about a canoe trip. By 256 pages in, they still haven’t left on the canoe trip. I spent the first 256 pages of the novel wondering when they were going to leave on this trip. This is further frustrating, because very few of the characters seem like the types of people who would ever embark on something of this caliber.

After finishing the book though, I think it might have been intentional. Towards the end of the book, Hay writes that in life we are often overcome by the length and suddenness of it. This book was paced this way. Hundreds of pages of anticipation, and then all the action, all at once.

2. Characters
Issue two. The people. Voicing in Late Nights hovers between first and third person. Hay launches into the book by introducing a slew of people, none of the characters are particularly likeable, and all of them cross-paths so frequently that it quickly becomes difficult to keep them straight. It kind of felt like watching a Canadian radio program reality TV show: deep down, everyone is awful, the isolation drives everyone a little crazy, and by the end of the second episode you find yourself struggling to empathize with anyone at all. Because I couldn’t keep the characters straight, I struggled connecting to any of them until the final chapters.

By the end of the book, I began to realize that there is only one character: the North. The way Hay’s narration of the characters against the background of the North is like the way Kurelek paints sole subjects against the empty prairies. Rather than having the subject become the focal point of the painting, instead it magnifies the importance and beauty of the background. Late Nights is about the North, about the space, about the hopeless unknowingness of it all. The lack of depth in the characters is integral to what Hay is trying to convey. She writes in the typical haunting solitary voice of Canadian fiction writers, her words stand out on the page like a lone tree on a horizon.

3. Sub-plots (or lack thereof)
The beginning of this book reads akin to field notes or a journal from an anthropological study. A collection of details that may or may not later be important. Each character in some way represents a different issue. For example, one works extensively on land claims issues. Initially I was frustrated by the flitting way the issues were brought up and the slowness in which they were returned to (if they were returned to at all). Later however, I wondered if this was in any way reflective of the way Northern issues are dealt with in reality. Largely it is the policy developed in the South, the huge shows in galleries that make way for change. I didn’t want to believe this subplot. I still want to believe change comes from within, that there was more to it. Ultimately I was still just left with a biography of the present day landscape, rather than any position on the myriad of issues or stories that she explained.

4. Imagery
"the slender gift of a sentence"
It’s beautiful lyricism. As with Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion, Late Nights on Air almost reads like an old epic, an Odyssey or an Iliad. These incredibly beautiful poetic moments, with delicate detail, loosely knit together with other intimate moments from fuzzy characters against a grander plot about place. This is how I read the book, like seeing a magic eye. I lost the characters, focused on the details, and out of the ether, this intense hidden story of the North emerged.

This would be a great screenplay.

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