Canadian author Elizabeth Hay won the Giller Prize for her novel, Late Nights on Air. Obviously, you begin a book like this- one with a certain pedigree already attached- with a little trepidation. I mean, what if you hate it?
I am happy to report that this is a beautiful book.
Set in Yellowknife in 1975, the novel tells the story of the intersecting lives of Harry (a CBC radio station manager), Dido (a beautiful announcer who has fled to the North to escape a complicated, but profound, relationship), Eleanor (the station’s secretary), Eddy (the station’s technician), Ralph (a local photographer and on-air book reviewer) and Gwen (a newcomer, who had come to the North inspired by the tragic story of an explorer named John Hornby.) Although Gwen is clearly the central character of the book, Hay deftly manages the interior lives of all the characters and, in doing so, makes us yearn to know more.
The last third of the book takes four of the characters on a tremendous canoe trip, inspired by the life of Hornby. That trip and the consequences of it forever change the lives of these characters.
I have always said that I hate a book that flashes us forward in time and shows us where the characters are now. Hay employs this device, but it seems almost organic. And at the book’s conclusion, I felt truly sad to be parting company with these people.
Ultimately, though, this book is about silence, longing, isolation, community and what love looks like.
I highly recommend it.