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Late Nights on Air: A Novel by Elizabeth Hay

Late Nights on Air: A Novel (original 2007; edition 2009)

by Elizabeth Hay

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7795511,772 (3.63)141
Title:Late Nights on Air: A Novel
Authors:Elizabeth Hay
Info:Counterpoint (2009), Edition: First Trade Paper Edition, Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

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Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay (2007)


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Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
Beautiful sentences, nuanced characters, appreciation for the wildness of the great north. The descriptions of caribou were some of the loveliest passages I had ever read. My only wish would be that there were fewer references to the bad thing that awaits in the future. I found those sentences distracting and pulling me away from the well-written present. ( )
  Lcwilson45 | Jul 27, 2013 |
This is the story of a radio station in Canada’s north in 1975, and the characters who inhabit it, such as Harry, who headed north after failure in the south; Dido, the announcer with the perfect voice who charms all the men simply by existing; Gwen, who drove three thousand miles for a job and the chance to get her start in radio; and others who are drawn to the beauty of the north. Meanwhile, the fate of the wilderness hangs in the balance as the Berger inquiry gathers evidence for and against the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline, which is set to cut a swath through previously untouched lands and irrevocably change a way of life for many First Nations.

I ended up liking this more than I thought I might—the descriptions of radio station life and running one’s own radio show were probably my favourite parts. It was also rewarding to see Gwen come into her own and develop confidence as a host. These sections also had some humour that helped counterbalance the poetic descriptions of landscape (well warranted here, but always something I tend to skim). The pivotal camping trip kept me turning the pages: I needed to know what happened, but the narration had a few attacks of “Had They But Known” syndrome, which was a minor irritation. The ending also requires careful reading because there are a couple of big jumps forward in time and I had to reread sections to make sure I knew what was going on. The book as a whole has a somewhat timeless feel; I didn’t read the blurb too closely and so it took me 200 pages to realize that the story took place in the 1970s. But I didn’t realize that I had missed out on this information, because the story had drawn me in so completely.

Overall, this book will probably do the job for you if you tend to like the books that Giller Prize juries have selected, are nostalgic for the old days of radio or want a glimpse into life in the Far North. ( )
  rabbitprincess | May 23, 2013 |
elizabeth hay is an amazing writer. seriously beautiful with her prose.
this story made me cry. twice. i don't tend to cry when i read books.
but this is what happens to me when i read her books - i become so
invested in the plot and with the characters that it seems so very real.
the triumphs and tragedies sit with me personally and occupy space
in my heart.

if you are one to time your reads to the seasons, this is a perfect winter
book. ( )
  DawsonOakes | Apr 6, 2013 |
A unique story with engaging characters, set against the backdrop of a key moment in Canadian and First Nations history, which is artfully woven into the narrative. ( )
  ElAlce | Jan 14, 2013 |
Where to even begin? Elizabeth Hay's eloquence and utter humanity has nearly struck me dumb. I loved this book, LATE NIGHTS ON AIR, so much that I didn't want it to end.

Canadian writers have fascinated me for years, maybe because I'm always so amazed that many great and well-known authors in Canada are all but UNknown here in the U.S. I remember discovering the funny and oh-so-human SMITH novels of Paul St Pierre many years ago. And of course there is always Farley Mowat, who is pretty well-known down here in the 48, probably mostly for his memoir, NEVER CRY WOLF. But his other two memoirs, BORN NAKED and AND NO BIRDS SANG are equally good, and they are all but invisible here in this country.

And there is Linden MacIntyre, the award-winning CBC journalist, with his Cape Breton novel trilogy and his lovely memoir of that region, CAUSEWAY. I simply can't understand how those books have not caught on here.

But now here is Elizabeth Hay, who has obviously been around for quite a while now and won some prestigious literary awards, and I am just now discovering her. Or thought I was, until I remembered I had read A STUDENT OF WEATHER some years back, a book I found, sadly, in a remainder bin. (Where I often find some of the very best books.)

LATE NIGHTS ON AIR is a literary gem, written from an omniscient point-of-view with love and care for its several main characters, who have all been turned and polished so that all of their facets and flaws are revealed under the light of careful and appreciative reading. And I did appreciate these fictional folks, make no mistake, all of whom worked at a small Northern Services radio station in Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, an historical settlement on the shore of Great Slave Lake.

First there is Harry, a embittered veteran of radio who peaked early, tried TV and failed, and is now, in his mid-forties, back where he started twenty years before.

The story unfolds in the mid-70s and begins with Harry hearing a voice on his own radio station, a late night radio voice that he hasn't heard before. The voice belongs to Dido Paris, a new hire, a beautiful young woman with a past and indeterminate sexual preferences, who leaves her lasting mark on Harry, as well as on all the other people whose lives she touches.

There is Eleanor Dew, the station's receptionist, who has her own unusual story which includes a brief unconsummated marriage. And Ralph, the station's book reviewer and nature photographer. And Eddie, a Vietnam vet and the station technician, and Harry's rival for Dido's affections.

But the novel's central character is Gwen, young and - mostly - innocent, still groping for her proper place in life, looking for a start in radio. Under Harry's guidance and Eleanor's friendship she gradually grows from a frightened young broadcaster into a confident and inventive late night radio personality with her own persona, 'Stella Round.'

Also key to the novel's forward impetus is the story of the Canadian explorer of the Barrens, John Hornby. Harry, Eleanor, Gwen and Ralph are all so fascinated by this man's legend and tragic end that they embark on a summer canoe trip retracing Hornby's last journey. (Both Hornby's trip and the retracing of it by this novel's characters made me remember Jon Krakauer's bestseller, INTO THE WILD.) And there is also the subtheme of an ongoing study by a federally appointed judge of the effects a planned pipeline would have on the fragile arctic ecosystem.

LATE NIGHTS ON AIR makes use of both of the most common themes in fiction: 'a new person comes to town' and 'someone goes on a journey.' And they are used and interwoven in a masterful manner. The book is filled with wonderful details that evoked so many memories and associations. The mention of Miles Davis' seminal album, KIND OF BLUE, made me remember my own introduction to that jazz masterpiece, at a remote army base in northern Turkey. The book's very title, and its theme, evoked memories of another more obscure but favorite album, Katy Moffatt's MIDNIGHT RADIO. And the description of the travelers' encounter with a massive herd of migrating caribou brought to mind Mowat's own similar experience in NEVER CRY WOLF.

There is nothing forced or contrived in LATE NIGHTS ON AIR. It has elements of tragedy, humor, and pathos. But what shines through the strongest is its utter humanity. As I said earlier, I wanted the story to go on and on. But its ending, while certainly not a happily-ever-after conventional sort of ending, is richly, deeply, and profoundly satisfying. I loved this book and recommend it highly. ( )
1 vote TimBazzett | Sep 15, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 54 (next | show all)
This book will no doubt be remembered as Hay’s “Yellowknife novel” or even her “radio novel” – it follows the lives of a handful of people running a northern CBC station in the 1970s. The characters’ various hang-ups are magnified and elevated by the lonely vastness....That city crops up in many of Hay’s works, through explorations of Canadian history and through what she calls a north-south/hot-cold fixation. But this novel is the first time she explores the territory deeply, as much as she explores the medium of radio deeply. “What actually was on my mind more than Yellowknife was the whole dilemma of shyness,” she says. “For some strange reason, shy people are frequently drawn to radio as a workplace...That effort has culminated in Late Nights on Air, with its adventure, entanglements, and suspense. But the book also has plenty of emotional insight
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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.
Harry confessed he had no sense of direction. He told Eleanor about he infamous night in Toronto when he went to play poker at a buddy's house for the umpteenth time, but walked into another house entirely, on a different block. "I was hanging up my coat when the owner came out of the kitchen. I figured he had to be the new player. So I said, 'Where's the booze?'"
She thought how changeable and infinitely various the air is, and how she was being paid to cram it to the gills with talk, to bury it under endless information, and she couldn't do it any more.
Lying on the ground, being reshaped, was like lying awake beside a new husband
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771038119, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:12 -0400)

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A psychologically astute study of love, power, rivalry and friendship in a remote radio station in the furthest reaches of Northern Canada. Originally published: U.S.: Counterpoint, 2007; London: MacLehose, 2008.

(summary from another edition)

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