Friday, October 12, 2007

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Date Completed: October 10, 2007
Pages: 364
Publication Year: 2007 (McClelland & Stewart)
Received from McClelland & Stewart in 2007.

Reason for Reading: I have started with my Giller-a-thon again. I have been crazy busy lately, and October has not been a good reading month.
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, and is already garnering interest abroad.
This book became short-listed for the Giller when I was reading it. This is the first time I have read Elizabeth Hay, although I have heard of her before. I did not know that had been nominated for a Giller before, though. Some people really want her to win this time around. I personally did not love this book, I still like the Ondaatje better, but it would be nice if someone relatively unknown won this time around. People like Ondaatje and Vassanji do not need more publicity, people are going to read them anyways.

One thing about this book was it was the first time I have read a book set up North in a while. It is always interesting to read books set up there because I have never been there before, and in many ways it is the 'exotic' setting to Canada. This novel is about a group of people that find themselves in Yellowknife and working at a radio station. This was before the television was available up there, so radio is the most popular form of entertainment up there. It is how the North keeps track of the outside world. This book is about more than radio, though. It is about the lives of the people in the novel. The book is told by many different people, so you get to see many story lines from several different viewpoints.

Hay talks about the history and the people. For me, the history lessons were very interesting. There are a few things I would like to read more about in the future. Harry is the character that in many ways brings all the characters in this book together. He has just moved back to Yellowknife after his stint on television did not work out. That summer he finds himself in charge of the radio station, and in love with a voice on the radio. The rest of the characters are added as time goes on through interactions with Harry and with the characters that Harry brings alive in the novel. There is Dido, the woman that seems to have everything going for her, but you soon find that things are not always as perfect for her as it seems. There are still a few things I wonder about in regards to her character. Opinions I had on her that were never really elaborated on, so I am left wondering if I saw things correctly.

One of the things to remember about life up North is that most of the people that live there are transplants. Very rarely are they actually born there, so they just find their way there. Harry is there after a failed job attempt, Dido is there after failed love, etc. Overall, a good book. I would not be disappointed to see it win the Giller, but it is still not my favourite. I also still have a few more books to read before I make my final opinion.

I do recommend this book! To check out all the details, click here.


  1. Hay is doing a reading in Charlottetown the beginning of November, maybe I'll go check it out and get her book. Thanks for the review, sounds like it would be worth is to get, and it would be a good North book for the Canadian challenge.

  2. yup, it would be good for that. It was a good book, just, for me, not a great one.

  3. Thanks for being a cheerleader in Dewey's readathon! I'm a reader tomorrow. :)


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