Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth HayLate Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay

Late Nights on Air

byElizabeth Hay

Hardcover | September 18, 2007

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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

Heather's Review

Late Nights On Air, Elizabeth Hay's Giller-wining novel made me want to do three things: start listening to radio again in a meaningful way, re-read The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service, and plan a trip to the Canadian North. Such is the impact of Hay's storytelling. Late Nights introduces us to a compelling cast of character...

see all heather's picks
Elizabeth Hay’s fiction includes A Student of Weather, a finalist for The Giller Prize and the Ottawa Book Award, Garbo Laughs, winner of the Ottawa Book Award and a finalist for the Governor General’s Award, and Small Change (stories). In 2002, she received the Marian Engel Award. Hay worked for cbc Radio in Yellowknife, Winnipeg, and...
Title:Late Nights on AirFormat:HardcoverDimensions:376 pages, 8.61 × 5.98 × 1.17 inPublished:September 18, 2007Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771038119

ISBN - 13:9780771038112


Rated 3 out of 5 by from Foreshadowing overdone, but lovely descriptions of the landscapes Been up North? If not, this is a good book telling how it was with the original explorers(insights from their diaries), as well as, the cast of Harry, Gwen, and Dido - love triangle in the 70s but not what you think. All are outsiders that have come to get away from something, though searching for themselves in the harsh climate, but beautiful landscape can be deceiving. The major political/social problem is the building of a new pipeline in the North and the problems it will bring to the different communities that surround the area and lack of regard of the local people and their heritage. Certain parts are written beautifully, while other parts seems truncated. Interesting read.
Date published: 2013-01-14
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing I found this book almost unbearably bad. I forced myself to keep reading in hopes that it would get less dreadful, but got to the last chapter to find that (a) the central plot was lost in the excess of adjectives taking over every single page, (b) the characters were never redeemed, and (c) all those hints that something meaningful was going to happen... never came through. I am actually shocked that this novel won awards of any form, much less the Giller Prize.
Date published: 2011-06-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This one makes my Top 10... You should buy it! "Late Nights on Air" is a gorgeous book. I agree with Heather (Heather's Picks) that it makes you want to listen to more intelligent radio, travel to the North, and learn more about early explorer history. There are many storylines weaving together in this novel which makes it so rich. I find myself thinking about the novel long after I finished it which is one of my criteria for "Top 10" status. The characters and their lives are so realistic, believable, and fascinating in all their imperfections. They have one common thread of yearning (all yearning for different things in their lives) and Hay explores this quality more deeply than any other novel I can think of... She also does a wonderful job of describing the setting and has me so curious to experience for myself the light of the northern circle and the vastness of the tundra. I picked up this book 2 or 3 times before I bought it.. The jacket cover is a bit misleading... I mistakenly thought it was going to be a love story where two people fall in love over the air... This is not quite right and the book is MUCH, MUCH more. Buy this book and recommend it to your friends!
Date published: 2009-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I love it I love Elizabeth Hay's writing, and I especially loved this novel. I spent a year in the North, and it was wonderful to go back there imaginatively. It takes a skillful writer to be able to switch point-of-view so fluidly.
Date published: 2008-05-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Major Disappointment I was really looking forward to this book and ended up being disappointed. I didn't like the characters as individuals and found their stories to be very flat. The last third of the book was the best, but overall this is not worth the read. I'm glad it's a Heather's pick, as I'll be returning it to get my money back!
Date published: 2008-04-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Definitely Overrated The publisher described the characters as being "utterly loveable." I would not agree with this. There isn't much to like about any of the characters. Most of them were tedious and insufferable. The other tedious part of reading this book is in the idea that Canadian literature somehow always has to have the themes of landscape, geography and the strong tie of individuals to the land. Can't Canadian writers go beyond this?
Date published: 2008-02-24
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing So, I started off reading with great anticipation. I really got into the Yellowknife setting, and I think that distracted me from the characters. Once I started paying attention to the characters I found I did not connect with them. I stopped reading on page 175 because I didn't really care what happened on their canoe trip.
Date published: 2008-02-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Late Nights on Air! I really thought this would be a good story however I found nothing to hold my interest. The pace is very slow. I was very disappointed.
Date published: 2008-02-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A STUNNER! In Late Nights on Air, Elizabeth Hay has another winner! This one has it all--romance, adventure, setting - along with strong characters with whom she compels the reader to engage.She's used her home base of Yellowknife and its surrounding landscape to good advantage, and the storyline builds to an amazing climactic sequence set in the famed Barren Grounds.
Date published: 2008-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wonderful Read A well written enjoyable read. The author makes it so easy to visualize the characters and landscape. The surroundings are as important as the characters. I look forward to reading more of her books.
Date published: 2008-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed it. Elizabeth Hay does a wonderful job of describing Yellowknife and the North. Her characters, none really likeable, provide a good story showing the challenges of living above the 60th.
Date published: 2008-01-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth the difficult start Although this book was difficult to start as all of the characters were being introduced - there were so many and they were all so rich - the book was overall a great read that opened my eyes to the North. Having been to Alaska in June, I could relate to the beauty described during the wonderful long days of summer. The author lets you know throughout that tragedy befalls them, so Heather's comment at the end of her review is no spoiler...
Date published: 2008-01-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lovely book This is a lovely book, and I was drawn into it, however, it does lack *something*. Far too much heavy-handed foreshadowing, and as another reviewer commeted, I didn't care for the characters as much as I shoud have. A good read nonetheless, but not as engaging as I expected.
Date published: 2007-12-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Giller Winner Well Worth Reading Late Nights on Air is a beautiful book to read. I enjoyed the descriptive language that Hay uses to describe the wilderness of the north. The story of the characters is complex yet also representative of many workplace friendships and their evolution over time. The author hints in the early pages of the book of a tragedy that will occur. This leaves the reader looking for what is likely to unfold as the group of friends takes an historic journey. The ebb and flow of the lyrical language provides a rewarding literary read. Truly worthy of its recent Giller Prize win, this book is well worth the time spent enjoying its pages.
Date published: 2007-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Compelling Story Rich in Human Emotion Late Nights On Air, Elizabeth Hay's Giller-wining novel made me want to do three things: start listening to radio again in a meaningful way, re-read The Cremation of Sam McGee by Robert Service, and plan a trip to the Canadian North. Such is the impact of Hay's storytelling. Late Nights introduces us to a compelling cast of characters all of whom find themselves working for the local radio station in Yellowknife - not so gripping a storyline you might think, but that would be incorrect. In Hay's hands, this is more than enough to weave a story rich in human emotion - love, lust, friendship, betrayal, loss and resignation. Among the group: Dido, an enigmatic and seductive young woman who has come to Yellowknife to get as far away as possible from an affair with her father-in-law; Harry, the hard-drinking veteran of the business whose romantic side is barely concealed by a cynical surface; Gwen, the station newbie who is struggling to find her voice both literally and figuratively; Eddy the station techie with big visions and abusive tendencies; Eleanor, the stable and true friend with love to give; and Ralph, the station's freelance book reviewer. As their friendships and romantic entanglements evolve, we are drawn into their lives, both past and present, and inexorably feel like a part of the group. Their intimate relationships play against the famed Berger Commission which looked movingly at what the proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline would do to the inhabitants of Yellowknife and in particular the Native population. The larger backdrop to the story is the land.vast, uncompromising in its beauty, and rich in history. Well into the story, four of the group take an arduous canoe trip following the route of Englishman John Hornby, however a member of the group is lost during the trip and the remaining friends are forever changed. Late Nights on Air is what true fiction lovers wait for - a story rich with characters who remain with you long after the book is done.
Date published: 2007-11-09
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not Quite as Good as I'd Hoped. I had really high hopes for this book with it being short-listed for the Giller prize. It was well written, and I loved the descriptions of the north, especially during their 6 week canoe trip. For someone who has never been North, you really get a feel for it, her writing is so visual. And while the different characters who worked at the radio station were interesting, I did not find them loveable. I just didn't care that much about them. The romantic entanglements weren't that interesting when the characters didn't speak to you at a deeper level. I wanted to like it more. The ending where we find out what has happened to all these people, didn't really matter to me. I can see how other people might really like this book, but the characters didn't speak to me. Read some old books off the Giller and Booker shortlists instead.
Date published: 2007-10-15

Read from the Book

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. A voice unusual in its sound and unusual in itself, since there were no other female announcers on air. He listened to the slow, clear, almost unnatural confidence, the low-­pitched sexiness, the elusive accent as she read the local news. More than curious, already in love, he walked into the station the next day at precisely the same time.It was the beginning of June, the start of the long, golden summer of 1975 when northern light held that little radio station in the large palm of its hand. Eleanor Dew was behind the receptionist’s desk and behind clever Eleanor was the studio. She looked up, surprised. Harry rarely darkened the station door except at night when he came in to do the late shift and got away with saying and playing whatever he liked. He paused beside her desk and with a broad wink asked about the new person on air.“Hired off the street,” she told him. “The parting shot of our erstwhile manager.”“Well, well, well,” said Harry.Despite the red glow of the on-­air light, he then pushed through the studio door, only to be met by one of the great mysteries of life. We look so very different from the way we sound. It’s a shock, similar to hearing your own voice for the first time, when you’re forced to wonder how the rest of you comes across if you sound nothing like the way you think you sound. You feel dislodged from the old shoe of yourself.Harry had pictured somebody short and compact with sun-­bleached hair, fine blue eyes, great legs, a woman in her thirties. But Dido Paris was tall, big-­boned, olive-­skinned, younger. Glasses. Thick, dark, springy hair held back off a wide face. Faintest shadow on her upper lip. An unreasonably beautiful woman. She ­didn’t look up, too intent on the newscast typed in capital letters on green paper, three-­part greens, the paper-­and-­carbon combination the newsmen typed on.He turned to check who was in the control room. Eddy at the controls and one of the newsmen standing at Eddy’s shoulder. An audience, in other words.Harry took out his lighter, flicked it, and put the flame to the top corner of the green. And still she ­didn’t look up.An upper lip as downy as he imagined her legs might be. And yes, when she stood up later and came around the table, her legs were visible below a loose blue skirt, and the mystery of her voice was solved. She was European. European in her straightforwardness, her appearance, her way of speaking, which was almost too calm, except when the page was alight. Then her voice caught fire. She stopped turning her long pencil end on end, pacing herself. Stopped speaking altogether. Her eyes went in two directions — one leg on shore, the other in the canoe, but the canoe was pulling away from shore and shit — she picked up her glass, poured water on the flames, and read with jolting speed, repressed panic, to the very last word at the bottom of the page.The news clip came on, she switched off her microphone and looked up wildly at the man with the boyish gleam in his eye. But he ­wasn’t boyish, he was balding, bespectacled, square-­jawed. She noticed his cauliflower ear.“You’re Harry Boyd,” she said.And she, too, had imagined another face — a big, bushy head to go with the relaxed, late-­night growl that she heard only as she fell asleep. The man who’d once been a big name in radio, she’d been told. He was shorter than she’d expected and his hands trembled.Half an hour later, perched on Dido’s desk, bumming a cigarette, Harry asked her how she’d come by her intriguing accent. She studied him, not quite willing to forgive his outrageous behaviour, until he asked if she was Greek. Then out bubbled her easy and seductive laugh.No chance. She’d grown up in the Netherlands near the German border, the daughter of a Latin teacher who’d listened to the bbc and written questions to “London Calling” about expressions he ­didn’t understand. Her father had a reel-­to-­reel tape recorder and taped programs off the radio. She learned English at school, she told Harry, but her pronunciation was terrible and so she’d asked her father to make some tapes for her, and then she practised her English listening to Margaret Leighton reading Noel Coward and to Noel Coward himself, acquiring in that way her peculiar European-­English accent, which she hated. “I figured marriage to a Canadian would solve my problem, but it ­hasn’t.”“Two minutes,” said Harry, “and you’re already breaking my heart.”“It ­didn’t last,” she said.“Then we have something in common, you and I.”He slipped her glasses off her face and breathed on the lenses and polished them with his handkerchief, then slid them back over her nose, saying, “And Dorothy Parker said men never make passes at girls with glasses.”“Parker?”“Dorothy. A writerly wit who famously claimed to be ‘too fucking busy and vice versa.’”Dido was only semi-­amused. To Eleanor the next day she called Harry “the loser,” a put-­down softened by her accent; it came out “lose-­air.” She said he’d taken a drag off her lit cigarette, then set it back on the ashtray. “So cheap,” she said with a shake of her head and a faint, unimpressed smile.“But not without charm,” countered Eleanor. “Charm, sex, insecurity: that’s what Harry has to offer.”Dido was more interested now.“He’s too old for you, Dido.”But his age was the last thing Dido minded.

Bookclub Guide

1. Harry Boyd, an admitted romantic, tries to make an impression on Dido Paris by setting her news script on fire while she is on the air. Fire is an ancient metaphor for passion, and Late Nights on Air could be described as an anthology of romantic love. Mrs. Dargabble’s first husband had urged her to “jump,” and many of the characters do, with differing results — from the sexually charged union of Eddy and Dido to more gradual entanglements. Discuss the varieties of love present in this small, isolated community. Which ones strike you as the most successful?2. One of Elizabeth Hay’s great novelistic strengths is her sense of place and the ways she knits her characters into their settings. In her first novel, A Student of Weather, the places included Saskatchewan, New York City, and Ottawa; her second novel, Garbo Laughs, is set in Ottawa, most memorably during the ice storm of 1998. In Late Nights on Air, set in Yellowknife and the North, the sense of place and her characters’ relationship to it is particularly intense. Sometimes readers talk about a novel’s setting as if it were a character in itself. Do you think that is the case in Late Nights on Air? What descriptions of place, in Yellowknife or on the canoe trip into the Arctic wilderness, have stayed with you most? How does the sense of place work to underscore and echo the characters and their situations or to contrast with them?3. In Late Nights on Air, fictional characters interact with a real, contemporary person, Judge Thomas Berger. Although they only interact with him minimally and formally, Berger and his commission are important components in the novel. Discuss Berger’s approach and personality, the ways in which it informs the Inquiry, and the place of the man and the Inquiry in Late Nights on Air.4. Late Nights on Air begins with Harry falling in love with the sound of Dido’s voice. In the novel, Gwen finds her radio voice — both in the sense of finding an attractive physical voice and in the sense of expressing her own personality. Voice and sound in general are natural preoccupations for people who work in radio, and the novel pays consistent attention to them, from Gwen’s fascination with sound effects to the voices of the announcers (in English and Dogrib), and the many descriptions of natural sounds and music. Discuss some of the ways Elizabeth Hay uses voice to characterize her men and women, and to highlight her larger themes.5. Elizabeth Hay says in her acknowledgements that the story of the adventurer John Hornby was always at the back of this book. A fascination with Hornby and Edgar Christian is one of the things Gwen and Harry have in common, and the explorers’ cabin is the destination of the canoe trip that takes Harry and Gwen, Eleanor and Ralph into the wilderness, where their lives will change forever. Does Hornby’s story of a quixotic and doomed exploration connect with, and perhaps comment on, the story of the modern characters — and if so, in what ways?6. One of the most sophisticated elements in an Elizabeth Hay novel is the fact that her flawed characters don’t find any conversion or easy resolution: Dido, for example, cannot bear criticism, and Harry, a veteran radio man, can’t separate his personal failure in television from the medium in general. Problems don’t get neatly wrapped up in Late Nights on Air, and the characters, though changed, in many ways end as imperfect as they began. Discuss some of the things that the characters have learned in the end — about each other and about themselves. Discuss some of the situations or personalities that never get “fixed,” and the particular flavour this gives the book.7. Harry’s relationship with Dido is never really fulfilled, but Harry’s yearning remains largely undiminished. What do you think the author is saying about human beings in general?8. Just before he died, Eleanor’s father was reading her the French story of “la fille qui était laide” — a girl so ugly that she hid herself in the forest where the fresh air, sun, and wind made her beautiful. The narrator tells us that, in the summer of 1975, a version of that story would unfold. The theme of this kind of transformation has been seen before in an Elizabeth Hay novel (A Student of Weather). Who is the transformed woman in Late Nights on Air — or should it be “women”? How does it happen?9. Discuss Dido and her personality, and how she powerfully affects each of the characters — Harry, Gwen, Eleanor, Eddy. To what extent is she affected by her past? Where does her power really lie? Is she, in fact, as confident and strong as she seems?10. There are frequent instances of foreshadowing in Late Nights on Air. The narrator writes, for example, about three unfortunate things that would happen to Harry in the coming winter, and in another place that “the events of the following summer would make these pictures of Ralph’s almost unbearably moving.” The reader is regularly pulled into the characters’ futures, but without knowing the details. In what way does foreshadowing function in the novel? How does it affect your reading experience?11. Eleanor, who is reading William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience, has a religious awakening in the course of the book. Most of the other characters don’t share her connection with institutionalized religion, but there is a strong undercurrent of spirituality in the book, felt differently by different characters. Discuss the varieties of religious or spiritual experience you find in the book.12. There is an elegiac tone in Late Nights on Air, and a sense that an older, more human way of life is disappearing, as radio gives way to television and as the traditional ways of the North are threatened by the pipeline and, more generally, by the South. Where are the shades of grey in the conflict between old ways and “progress”? Does the novel give you a sense of where the novelist stands on this?13. John Hornby’s biographer, George Whalley, tells Gwen that both he and his subject approach life “‘crabwise,’ meaning sideways and backwards rather than head-on.” Harry likes this idea of “a wandering route notable for its ‘digressions and divagations’.... A route of the soul, perhaps.” Does “crabwise,” in the sense Hay is using the term, suggest something of the structure chosen for Late Nights on Air? In what way does this approach reflect the characters’ yearnings and the way they are able to express themselves? Is this true of human beings in general?14. “Gwen found herself thinking about the vulnerable rivers and birds and plants and animals and old ways of life.” She learns, for example, that an oil spill, in turning the ice black, ruins its reflective power so that it absorbs light and melts, thus changing the environment. At one of its deepest levels, this is a book about ecology, about the fragile interdependence of people, animals and their environment. Discuss the ways this plays out in Late Nights on Air.15. In addition to its rewards, the canoe trip taken by Harry, Eleanor, Gwen, and Ralph has its share of ordeals, including Harry and Eleanor getting lost, Gwen’s encounter with a bear, and Ralph’s fate. Discuss the various ways in which the characters are de-stabilized and reoriented in the course of the trip, and how the trip impacts upon their lives later.16. Dido is so different in her relationship with Harry than she is with Eddy. What is it about the two men — and what is it about Dido — that cause such different responses?17. This is a book where couples are often frustrated and love is not reciprocated or is cut off too soon — Harry and Dido, Dido and Eddy (a relationship that endures but on unknown terms), Eleanor and Ralph. Perhaps unexpectedly, an unconventional couple comes together at the end of the book. Were you surprised? Are there hints throughout the book? Does it work for you?

Editorial Reviews

#1 National Bestseller“Elizabeth Hay has created her own niche in Canadian fiction by fastening her intelligence on the real stuff — the bumps and glories in love, kinship, friendship.” — Toronto Star“Hay exposes the beauty simmering in the heart of harsh settings with an evocative grace that brings to mind Annie Proulx.”— Washington Post"Dazzling....A flawlessly crafted and timeless story, masterfully told.” — Jury citation, the Scotiabank Giller Prize“Exquisite….Hay creates enormous spaces with few words, and makes the reader party to the journey, listening, marvelling….” — Globe and Mail“This is Hay’s best novel yet.” — Marni Jackson, The Walrus“Invites comparison with work by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood. Outside Canada, one thinks of A.S. Byatt or Annie Proulx.” — Times Literary Supplement“Written by a master storyteller.” — Winnipeg Free Press“Psychologically astute, richly rendered and deftly paced. It’s a pleasure from start to finish.” — Toronto Star