Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (2007), Toronto:  McClelland and Stewart, hard cover, 364 pages, ISBN 978-0-7710-3811-2.

In this Giller Prize winning novel Elizabeth Hay writes a story of love, transition, and – like all classic Canadian fiction – survival.

It’s Yellowknife, 1975,  and the enquiry into the McKenzie Valley gas pipeline is highlighting the plight of the aboriginal peoples.  At the same time, Harry Boyd returns to the north to manage a small radio station.  It is in that setting that the lives of the characters in the novel become intertwined.  Boyd becomes entranced by Dido, an exciting, almost exotic announcer who is running from her past.  Gwen, the youngest of the group and a passionate collector of sounds, becomes entranced by Boyd.  Eleanor, the station receptionist, with her own intriguing past, acts as the wise woman.  Together with Ralph, an extremely sensitive photographer, four of them set off to follow the route taken by the Arctic explorer John Hornby who perished in the Barrens in 1927.

I recently had the great pleasure of doing some back country camping in Labrador with Elizabeth Hay’s Late Nights on Air. And, although Labrador is not Yellowknife and I was not as far north as the Arctic, many little things resonated with me.  It was either bugs or wind.  Forest gave way to rock as we travelled.  Moss and bogs grew between the rocks as soft as a down-filled cushion.   Flowers grew in the most unlikely places.  And the hues in the rocks, flowers, and bogs were amazing.  Hay picks up on all of this and more.  The bear, the fox, washing hair in the river – all of this was articulated in Hay’s novel as I experienced it in the wild.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  The characters are intelligent, well-read, thoughtful, and witty.  It was a pleasure getting to know them.

Thank you Elizabeth Hay, for a job well done.

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