Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth HayLate Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay

Late Nights On Air

byElizabeth Hay

Paperback | April 1, 2008

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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

From the Hardcover edition.
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:PaperbackDimensions:376 pages, 8.3 × 5.74 × 0.93 inPublished:April 1, 2008Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771040199

ISBN - 13:9780771040191

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enthralling Elizabeth Hay has a way of writing characters that pull you into their minds and make you feel like your living the story. I like how she incorporates Canadian events into the timelines of her novels. This book really captures the feel and pace of northern living.
Date published: 2015-03-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from If you like very slow stories Don't get me wrong: the setting for this book is in a small town in northern Canada, so it makes sense for the storyline to have somewhat of a slow pace, but I found this one a bit excruciating. Some long descriptions that, in my opinion, didn't add anything to the story were ever present, and by the time I was three quarters of the way through the book I started to skip most of them. What kept me reading was that I wanted to know what would happen to the characters in this novel, despite the fact that I never managed to get attached to any one of them. Not a book I would read again, but glad I did read it after all.
Date published: 2011-07-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful I absolutely loved this book. Need I say more?
Date published: 2010-04-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from wake me up!! I was really looking forward to this book, having one the Giller prize, etc. While there are some interesting parts in the book, on a while, it was boring, dull and a bit too long. After a while, I only read the book when I had trouble sleeping - as it would put me to sleep after 15 pages.
Date published: 2009-07-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Could have been more captivating 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.
Date published: 2009-05-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very Enjoyable Take a radio station in Yellowknife, the employees of this radio station (who are all refugees from another life) add in their relationships with eachother. This all leads to a very enjoyable read. Add in a canoe trip described so vividly, that your visions are spectacular. This novel caused me to think alot of the northern remote area of canada, the environment, radio, and life relationships..Well done.
Date published: 2009-04-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Love is like a Chinese menu. It’s not a question of meeting the one & only. There's infinite choice. A decent story that revolves around a group of late-night radio hosts who embark on a canoe journey to move past their mundane existences. Romance and friendship blossoms, fades and twists the minds and hearts of all those involved especially when a woman named Dido becomes part of the team. Love returns in a way that some could view as complacency or in fact the strongest adoration amongst the characters from the start. The book is set in Northern Canada, and the author has a poetic and vivid way of describing the beauty of the North but at times, the story becomes a little bland and long winded to read.
Date published: 2008-11-04
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Expected More When I heard about this book I was excited and I couldn't wait to read it. However, I found it rather dull at many points, and it didn't really hold my interest. I guess it may have been well-written, but I didn't relate to any of the characters, and I felt no emotion really towards them. Not my style.
Date published: 2008-09-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fabulous book... 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.
Date published: 2008-07-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from It Has Some Hot Moments In early 70’s, Harry Boyd returns to Yellowknife to work at the local radio station, there he falls in love with Dido Paris, a novice broadcasters with a voice “ like a tarnished silver spoon”. Both are part of a cast of loveable eccentrics at the station. Reviving their pasts and what attracted them to the North is the centre of this story. Several affairs are set among the station staff and the story extends into the landscape where four of them embark on a six week canoe trip exploring the Artic wilderness. Not only it is my first experience reading a novel by Elizabeth Hay, it is also my first one set in Northern Canada. I have never been to Yellowknife or to the Artic, Ms Hay’s descriptions of the area are most interesting and in many ways “exotic”. Her chosen words are throughout the novel colourful and pleasant, she is very soft spoken. The novel is more than a story around a radio station, which was the only form of entertainment at the time; it is about history of the area and the lives of the local inhabitants. The characters are a group of “shy” faceless performers who are outgoing when alone in front of a microphone. The book has a romantic streak about it with its share of hot moments portrayed very modestly, leaving a lot to the imagination, the same can be said about the description of the canoe trip. I was left often wondering if parts of the story were missing and did I arrived at the right scenario. Although I found the book to have had its appealing moments it missed intrigue and mystery leaving my mind to wander way too much, for that reason, at times I was bored and contemplated abandoning it.
Date published: 2008-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Wish it never ended! What a great account of Yellowknife - gives you the feel of walking its streets. Hay provides an accurate description of the local scene, canoeing the local rivers and lakes - and the interesting challenges that come with the seasons. For those who live in Yk, there is something in each of the characters to which you can relate. The CBC radio plays a central character in the book – it binds the fabric of Gwen, Eleanor, Ralph, and Harry. Favourite line in the book, “To our wives and our sweethearts, may they never meet.” My criticism is the multiple use of the word Eskimo vs. Inuit. Hay has gone to such great lengths to respect the North – I am surprised she overlooked this one.
Date published: 2008-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Didn't want it to end! What a great account of Yellowknife - gives you the feel of walking its streets. Hay provides an accurate description of the local scene, canoeing the local rivers and lakes - and the interesting challenges that come with the seasons. For those who live in Yk, there is something in each of the characters to which you can relate. The CBC radio plays a central character in the book – it binds the fabric Gwen, Eleanor, Ralph, and Harry. Favourite line in the book, “To our wives and our sweethearts, may they never meet.” My criticism is the multiple use of the word Eskimo vs. Inuit. Hay has gone to such great lengths to respect the North – I am surprised she overlooked this one.
Date published: 2008-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A wonderful story A wonderful, mulit-layered novel that at it's heart is as much about the land as the characters who inhabit it. The central story is about the 'goings on' at the local CBC radio affiliate in 1970's Yellowknife. In the background is the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline inquiry, and the denouement is a canoe trip through the wilderness. It all fits together nicely and the portrait of the "Barren Lands" is evocative and somewhat haunting. My only criticism is a repetition of foreshadowing throughout the novel - one or two mentions would have sufficed but this was overdone and became intrusive.
Date published: 2008-04-01

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.From the Hardcover edition.

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 StarFrom the Hardcover edition.