This is a finely crafted portrayal of life in Canada's Far North! In her story, Hay effectively brings together a motley group of southerners in Yellowknife to work the northern airwaves for the CBC. This novel covers a time in the middle 70s when the North was opening up to development of its great deposits of oil and natural gas, and people were coming from points south to start a new life for themselves. What many were not prepared for was the incredible struggle they would have to go through to assert their identity. The land that they are about to enter is described in the novel in all its unexpected ferocity, unimaginable vastness, haunting beauty, forsaken loneliness and unyielding naturalness. Intimidating enough to send any newcomer packing after their first winter! The barren world that confronts these outsiders - Harry, Gwen, Eddie, Dido, Ralph and Eleanor - is one that can only be temporarily subdued by the power and lure of transmitted voices breaking into other's confined living spaces dotted over the hundreds of miles of open wasteland. All the above physical dimensions have the power to keep northerners eking out a living in tiny communities hugging the banks of the many rivers like the mighty Mackenzie. For the whiteman there is no substitute for the human voice, even though people like Gwen attempt to go out and capture the numerous sounds of wildlife on tape to compensate for the real thing. It is the magnetic qualities of the Dido's voice on a late night program that initially draws Harry to her in what turns out to be an unhappy affair. The trouble with a voice pattern is that while it becomes the initial badge of identity in the far reaches of nowhere, it only serves to lead people to each other in the hope of forming more lasting contacts. As this phenomenon unfolds in the story, fragile relationships quickly become longer friendships, only to be suddenly dashed as a result of the stress of withstanding the awful engulfing nature of the land. As a parallel to this human drama of outsiders trying to become insiders, Hay provides an interesting sideshow with the Berger Mackenzie Pipeline Inquiry of 1975. As in the story, many Inuit and Dene communities throughout the North found their collective voices through radio and town meetings to oppose the building of this pipeline as a direct threat to the natural integrity of the land. At the end, Hay leaves with her readers with the thought that those who attempt to conquer the north - explorers, miners, traders and developers, and DJs - do so at their own peril. They quickly become disenchanted with each other and their surroundings because theirs is not the voice that is willing to make peace with the land. One cannot come into the North with unresolved issues and expect to survive. To live contently in the North, one has to be prepared to let it to make them into somebody who respects and live within its natural powers. This book, while lacking a fasting moving plot that comes to a quick resolution, is worth reading for what it says about life, at various levels,in this great last frontier.
on December 7, 2007
This book manages to do something not many can, last one I can remember doing this good a job is "Lonesome Dove" by Larry McMurtry. That is bring into sharp focus the characters and relationships of a time and place in such a way that you truly believe them to be real people, and then take these people and cast them against a wild landscape. The story is as much about the how the characters relate to each other as to how they relate to their environment. In "Lonesome Dove" McMurtry takes a cast of well rendered characters and takes them on a cattle drive from Texas to Montana. "In Late Nights on Air" Hay introduces us to the people who work at a Yellow Knife radio station in the wild and wooly Canadian North. Once I started this book it was impossible to put down! Another book that captures a slice of life in a wild place I recommend is "Across the High Lonesome" I did not think it as strong as this novel but still a worthy read.
on March 7, 2008
I really wanted to love this novel...heck, I would settle for even liking this novel. After all, as other reviewers have pointed out, it is the 2007 Giller Prize winner. However, Late Nights on Air is a complete disappointment. Admittedly, I had high expectations for this novel, as it is a prize winner, but it falls short in the slow pacing of the plot, a totally unsatisfying conclusion, and the inclusion of too many stereotyped and marginal characters.
The novel's setting is Yellowknife, and author Elizabeth Hay's imagery does evoke both the desolate beauty and cruelty of the physical environment. Unfortunately, the main plot and several secondary subplots that are interwoven together never really generate any tension or excitement until perhaps the last third of the novel in which four characters take a six week canoe trip. The ending leaves most of the flat, kitchy characters in unpleasant circumstances. I am not against sad endings by any means; however, the sadness that surrounds most of these characters is the similar to the sorrowful and isolated circumstances in which many of them begin, and in some cases, even worse. As the characters are not dynamic, transformations do not occur, and it is hard to care about or relate to many of them. As one of the students in my English class pointed out, the characters seem too similar to characters from 90s television show Northern Exposure and current Canadian comedy Corner Gas. If you like these shows, you may like the characters in this book. I am not a fan of the shows or this book!
The struggles of Canada's north are important issues that often get ignored by politicians, the mainstream media, and many people living in the country's urban and suburban areas. The novel is effective at demonstrating the poverty, isolation, and environmental concerns that people living in the far north must deal with on a daily basis. However, the novel falters with stilted dialogue spoken by inauthentic characters and storylines that take too long to develop. [Amy MacDougall]
on April 13, 2008
I finished Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay this past weekend. I decided to read this book because it won the Giller Prize in 2007. Did I like this book? Yes. Was it a great book? No. Did it deserve to win the Giller? Maybe. Would I recommend the book to someone else? Not sure.
The book though is most definitely what I would categorize as "Chick Lit". There's nothing wrong with Chick Lit, especially if you're a woman. But as a guy, obviously I don't read a lot of the particular genre.
What I liked most about the novel is the focus it gave to the CBC. As someone who has been interested in the inner workings of the Mother Corp, I thought Hay did a great job of explaining the politics behind the scenes. She also did a good job of explaining the loneliness that takes place in northern Canadian communities, and how the winter seasons can drag on and on and on.
So what didn't I like? Specifically I was not a fan of how Hay wrote about the First Nations. She tried to portray them as being "one" with the landscape and therefore deserved some type of special treatment by the Berger Commission looking in to the proposed oil and gas pipeline. Whatever. I would have enjoyed the book more if Hay had focused more on the story line and less on politics.
Read this book if you're interested in life in Northern Communities. Read this book if you like reading novels that have won the Giller. Don't read this book if you're expecting the great Canadian novel.
on April 5, 2010
I don't understand how this book won awards. When I received it as a birthday present, I couldn't wait to read it. I absolutely love Canadian literature. I tried really hard to enjoy this book. The story moves REALLY slow and there are a ton of uninteresting stories to keep track of.
I was able to read half of the book before deciding to put it down. I've read that it gets better in the second half but I can't take it anymore.
On a positive note though, it is written really well. Elizabeth Hay really does give you a sense of the atmosphere.
But I would definitely not recommend this book.
on May 25, 2008
Its 1975 Yellowknife where Harry arrives on the scene to temporarily manage the small town radio station, back where his radio career started. When he arrives, he is enchanted by an exotic and sensual female voice on the air, that of Dido. He falls instantly in love but finds out that Dido is more than what her voice portrays.
There is also Eleanor, the wise and supportive receptionist, Gwen the woman who drove cross-country hoping for a producer job behind the scenes, but instead is put on as an amateur announcer, and there is Ralph the book critic and photographer. Of course, Yellowknife is also a central character with its beauty and biting cold.
In the background, we learn about the real life controversy of the proposed Mackenzie River Valley natural gas line, which threatens to go into the Arctic and destroy native people's land. We also learn the rich history of the extraordinary explorer John Hornby, which prompts Harry, Eleanor, Gwen, and Ralph into an ambitious and difficult 6-week journey through the harsh climate on foot and by canoe.
Throughout the entire book Elizabeth Hay allows us to get to know and love the richly-textured characters that come to life. I felt as if I was part of the book as I was reading it. Having to bundle up when reading about the harsh winters and in awe of the beauty both sounds and sights that Hay paints. The characters seem like people who are true to life, which makes the book very readable and believable.
Hay won the prestigious Giller Prize for this work and I couldn't agree more. This book is a must read and will appeal to readers of literary fiction, fine character studies, and historical fiction alike. This was my first voyage through Elizabeth Hay and it has left me yearning for more by this outstanding author.
on September 15, 2012
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.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
on November 21, 2007
Great original story about the modern Canadian north country! The author recreates life at a Yellowknife radio station circa 1975. At the heart of the story are the well drawn characters that work at the statio---and a mixed bag it is--and there relationships with each other. But this is no ordinary radio station due to it remote and wild location--- the author does a great job contrasting these two elements. This is a real slice of life book that takes you to a time and a place populated by real people.
A trip into the Barrens to retrace the route of explorer John Hornby was my favorite part of the book. The author does an excellent job of capturing the essence of this wild place, and bringing to life its effect on the human visitors/inhabitants. The last book that did as good a job at this was "Across the High Lonesome" another excellent slice of life book set in the high mountains of California.
on May 14, 2009
Late Nights on Air is not a page-turning, breath-taking, unable-to-put-down book. Rather, it is a book meant to be read slowly and leisurely, much in the same way the story itself unfolds. Hay introduces us to the North, where days and nights blur together and people come and go. Her characters are rich and her descriptions of the North are vivid. This is not a book with intricate plots or a lot of action; rather it is a portrait of common people living their lives the best they can in a world that is both insular and isolated. I enjoyed this book and found Hay's descriptions of Yellowknife and the Barrens powerful. If you enjoy novels that are character driven and in which the land itself becomes a prominent character, then I think you'll enjoy Late Nights on Air.
on May 5, 2009
I really wanted to love Late Nights on Air. I generally enjoy stories that take place in Canada, and always feel a sense of pride about the way that the country is portrayed. Unfortunately, that is the only thing that I really did enjoy about this book. Elizabeth Hay describes the great North as a true thing of beauty, and provides great insights into the lonely, isolated feeling of living in a Northern town.
However, I found the story to really drag on, especially in the first two-thirds, and I had to force myself to read on. The story does pick up for the last third, and I found myself enjoying the characters and the storyline more. But for the first two-thirds, I really wondered where Hay was going to go with the story.