Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Filed under: Book Reviews,Giller Prize — Ibis at 5:22 pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2008

From the dust jacket:
“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 he discovers that the real woman, Dido Paris, is even more than he imagined.

Dido and Harry are part of a cast of eccentric, utterly beguiling 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. Then, one summer, four of them embark on a canoe trip that takes them into the Arctic wilderness, following the route taken by the legendary Englishman John Hornby, who, along with his small party, starved to death.”

Other useful links:
the not-so-useful Wikipedia article on Late Nights on Air
the Wikipedia article on Yellowknife, NWT
the Wikipedia article on Great Slave Lake
the Wikipedia article on Elizabeth Hay
the Wikipedia article on barren-ground caribou
Elizabeth Hay’s website

My thoughts:
I met Elizabeth Hay when she did a reading from this (as yet unpublished) novel. I enjoyed it so much I bought another book of hers (as yet unread) & put Late Nights on my mental To Be Read stack. So when it won the Giller, I knew I just had to read it for real and luckily enough, received a copy for Christmas (2007).

I’ve had a fascination with the North (and what born n’ bred Canadian doesn’t?) since I read Laura Beatrice Berton’s I Married the Klondike, so I was looking forward to going back North of 60.

At first I had a difficult time sorting out who was who, with two women from outside trying to make it into radio (in fact, I actually had to start reading over again after about 30 pp). I found the backdrop of the Berger inquiry very interesting, and I loved the whole middle act of the book—the journey across the Barrens retracing John Hornby’s 1927 expedition. I didn’t really warm up to Harry, Gwen or Dido so much & I couldn’t stand Eddy. Also, the ‘epilogue’ was really, quite disappointing.

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