Friday, January 18, 2008

Late Nights On Air - Elizabeth Hay

The Basics: Late Nights on Air, Elizabeth Hay, 2007, 363 pages, hardcover, winner of the 2007 Giller Prize

How I found it: I decided to read this book when the Giller shortlist came out. However, I was on the waiting list at the library so long that Hay's book had won by the time I read it.

What's it about?: This novel follows the lives of several staff members at the Yellowknife CBC radio station in 1975. The story begins as an ensemble piece and slowly explores the lives of quite a few characters. However, by the end of the book, the plot focuses on Harry, the grizzled veteran broadcaster at the tail-end of his career, and Gwen, the young self-conscious rookie. Late Nights on Air is concentrated around the social interactions of the characters, and their resulting insecurities. All of this is set against a backdrop of the Berger Inquiry into the (at the time) proposed Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.

Did I like it?: I really enjoyed this book and was surprised that I had never read any of Hay's work before. The novel was very character driven, which was good, since the characters were very well written and three-dimensional. The pace of the book was a little slow, but somehow I wasn't bothered by that. I have done some research on current issues to do with the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline, so it was also interesting to see a dramatization of the issues surrounding the decision to go forward with the pipeline in the areas that would be most affected by it. I am not completely in love with this book, but I agree that it is well written and a great story, so I think it is well-deserving of its Giller win.

Will you like it?: I you like good contemporary Canadian literature this is required reading. I especially recommend this book because it tackles important issues not usually seen in Canadian fiction: the realities of living in the urban North, and the environment.

But don't take my word for it: The usual publisher-approved reviews and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from The Walrus, one from Vancouver's The Georgia Straight, another from The Tyee, and finally one from the blog Kailana's Written Word.

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