Thomas Berger (MacKenzie Valley Pipeline) called the Arctic
wilderness “the last of North America – the eighth wonder of the
world”. Elizabeth Hay’s book takes you there, but she makes the
“Late Nights on Air” is the story of a half a dozen men and women
working in a radio station in Yellowknife. Thrown together
professionally, they get even closer when four of them undertake a canoe
trip down the lonely Thelon River.
The manager of the station takes on a young woman who had driven
from Georgian Bay, intent on experiencing the North with which she had
become infatuated. The manager had his own infatuation with a Dutch
girl, beautiful and eccentric, who ran away from her job to join a
radical young technician who was working on behalf of the Dene people.
The manager joins the three others for the trip down the Thelon.
This is the river, less known than the Nahanni, where the
Englishman John Hornby misjudged the running of the caribou and, with
two younger compatriots, starved to death – their cabins still standing,
testimony to the tragedy of their deaths.
Hay’s writing on the North is truly brilliant– the white bells of
Arctic heather, the old white wolf, the ice clogging the river in the
early stages, the grizzly bear, the 80-pound back -packs the men
carried, the overwhelming emptiness of the sky and Barrens. The quiet
days bring memories to all four, who share their loves and losses
between portages and settling down for the night. Hay is witty and
candid. The snatches of conversation make her characters very real.
Hay was herself a radio announcer. She now lives in Ottawa, and
has written four fiction and two non-fiction books, some winning
prizes. This one won the most recent Giller Prize.
Book Review by Anne McDougall