Late Nights on Air

Late Nights on Air

Book - 2008 | 1st Counterpoint ed.
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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.
Publisher: Berkeley : Counterpoint, 2008.
Edition: 1st Counterpoint ed.
Branch Call Number: FICTION
Characteristics: 363 p. ;,22 cm.
Notes: Originally published: Canada : McClelland & Stewart, 2007.


From Library Staff

Roberta's pick: I've not yet read any of her work, but she was impressive at WORD 2016. Although this book (Late Nights on Air) is not her most recent - that is His Whole Life, it appeals to me. About a small radio station in Northern Canada, it has a motley crew of characters and a depth to its... Read More »

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Aug 18, 2020

Elizabeth Hay is one of the most self-assured writers active today, in Canada or anywhere else. Here, she deftly migrates POV among her cast of characters, all without any jarring sense of omniscience; that can be a risky strategy but in her hands it pays off in the delivery of multiple complex personalities. And that’s a good thing, because this is definitely not plot-driven, relying rather on a subtle exploration of relationships, motivations, aspirations, dreams. At no point does she settle on one character as her prime protagonist, even though Harry’s fascinated pursuit of Dido is a common thread throughout. It seems to me that Hay relates in a more personal way with Gwen but each of the characters get their moments and every one of them has a unique story to tell.
There is a pervasive sense of time and place: Yellowknife and the vast surrounding arctic tundra, the mid 1970s, a time of fierce public debate regarding development of the north, with all its attendant risks, concerns, opportunities and conflicts. Hay captures the uniqueness, power and at times menace of that magnificent but unforgiving land, not through lengthy, adjective-laden description but by picking up details, highlights of flora, fauna and above all the powerful impact of climate and the light-and-dark extremeness of the high-latitude setting. The realities of snowfall, frozen lakes and abrupt weather changes coinciding with 24-hour daylight in July are not just ‘background music’: this has a direct bearing on everything that happens in the lives of these people.
Placement of the characters in a Northern Services radio station is a bonus, adding an extra dimension to both the setting and the personalities. Radio (especially late at night) and its possibilities for intimacy, variety and imagination tends to be largely forgotten in our visually-obsessed age. This is not simply nostalgia, it’s a different experience, one that television and the internet cannot match.
Elizabeth Hay reaches for a lot here and she succeeds on several fronts. If I may introduce one minor quibble, it would be her depiction of the aboriginal population, primarily the Dene. Even though their interests and the precarious state of their way of life in the absence of a land agreement loom large, none of them emerge as important characters; only Theresa is presented with any substance. I wonder if Hay might have handled this aspect a bit differently had she been writing in 2017 instead of 2007.
Highly recommended.

May 23, 2020

Didn't finish it, became boring, made it to about 100 pages.

Jan 28, 2019

My favourite book so far by Hay. Loved the descriptions of the landscape and the people. Highly recommended.

Jan 19, 2018

Absolutely loved reading this story of life centering around a radio station in Yellowknife in the 1970s. Especially interesting because we had just happened to watch the movie CBQM about the radio station in Fort McPherson, NWT!

Jul 14, 2017

Elizabeth brings Canada's north to life with real people and descriptions of the climate and terrain. I could almost relive my years in Northern Manitoba with her story.

Jul 20, 2016

Beautiful vivid landscape description. A rolling story interspersed with some historical discoveries of the North.

Oct 21, 2015

I read this in Aug 2015 for the Chinook Library System Summer Reading Challenge. I used it for the 'book that won the Giller Prize' category. I enjoyed it, even though I was speed reading at the time! (I didn't win the prize (a kobo) though. Oh well, I like real books better anyway!)

May 13, 2014

An alright book which brings back memories of Yellowknife. However, did not find it a compelling read

mytwin Dec 02, 2013

Elizabeth Hay has a way of drawing you into Canadian experiences in very interesting ways.The details are intriguing.I actually read this recently for the second time after reading her "Alone in the Classroom".
Canadian authors and Canadian settings are my favorites.

WVMLBookClubTitles Jun 17, 2013

Hay explores the relationships, psychologies, and motivations of a group of lost souls working at a small CBC radio station in 1975 Yellowknife.The North, itself, rises to character-status as rich imagery immerses the reader in an isolated setting that reflects the yearnings of its inhabitants. While the novel is replete with bright and witty dialogue, the reader is ever-conscious of Hay’s omniscient point of view and frequent foreshadowing, which communicate a tone of resignation, melancholy, and foreboding; the threat of a proposed gas pipeline through Native land also contributes to a sense of tension. Hungering for life-altering experiences, the friends embark on a canoe trip that takes them into the Arctic wilderness, where they learn that fate may be as unforgiving as the land. This 2007 Giller Prize winner is an artfully crafted, insightful, and quotable work about love and self-discovery.

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Mar 11, 2011

kirab thinks this title is suitable for 15 years and over


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Mar 13, 2012

Against the backdrop of a judicial inquiry into a proposed construction of a gas pipeline across the Arctic that would threaten the northern environment and the native way of life, this novel follows an engaging assortment of characters working in the Yellowknife CBC radio station in the mid-1970s Canadian North. Inspired by a radio drama about adventurer John Hornby, who traveled extensively through the Northwest Territory before starving, Gwen Symon arrives as a dewy-eyed newcomer with dreams of working behind the scenes in radio. Mentored by the talented but hard-drinking station manager, Gwen ends up working the late shift on air. She gradually comes into her own, just as radio makes way for television and the station crew begins to disband. Before they do, Gwen and friends set out on a journey to retrace Hornby's route. Equal parts Northern Exposure and Lost in the Barrens, this novel, already the winner of Canada's prestigious Giller Prize, compellingly captures one of the many small moments in which the Canadian North began to lose its essence. A strong choice for all libraries.--Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Kingston, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals


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