Thursday 11 April 2019
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Set in the 1970s this is a novel centred on the staff of a radio station in the far north of Canada. This is the time when the future of radio was uncertain due to the rise of television and the future of all the characters feels uncertain due to the isolation and extreme conditions of where they are based as well as the shadow hanging over their careers if they are to remain in radio. At the same time the future of the entire community is uncertain due to a proposed oil pipeline that threatens to cross through the place.
The central part of the novel follows four characters (Eleanor, Gwen, Ralph and Harry) as they undertake a canoe trip following in the wake of early explorers of the area. There are some beautiful descriptions here of the natural wonders that awaken the characters to exactly what stands to be lost if the pipeline goes ahead:
'It was like witnessing the arrival of a myth: the caribou emerged from the land and belonged to it, tentative, purposeful, graceful, shy, their colours buff, brown, pale, grey..... What they were seeing was was the mass arrival of something beautifully recessive and fleeting. They could have missed it just as easily. a few hours one way or the other.'
There was a lot I liked and admired about this novel, but even though I like understated, slow moving writing, I found this was oddly too understated and underwhelming. I felt that the situation with the pipeline deserved to be treated with more emphasis, similarly the moments of peril during the canoeing trip. I wanted to feel more engagement with the plot and with the characters. So ultimately though it's an interesting novel it felt somehow unsatisfactory overall.
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay published (2007) by McClelland and Stewart using 'ancient forest friendly paper'.