LATE NIGHTS ON AIR by Elizabeth Hay (McClelland & Stewart), 376 pages, $32.99 cloth. Rating: NN
This novel, the author's fifth and recently Giller shortlisted, is set in the mid-70s at a CBC radio station in Yellowknife, where a handful of lost souls converge to escape their pasts, heal broken hearts and discuss boring old radio personalities and doomed explorers.
There's the shy and reluctant DJ, Gwen, who drove 3,000 miles into the barrens for no good reason, and Harry, the rumpled old refugee from Toronto television who's in love with Dido Paris, a woman on the run from a failed romance whose voice is "like a tarnished silver spoon."
If there's one thing Hay knows, it's her way around an elegant turn of phrase. Here, she turns her rich prose to detailing the seductiveness of radio, those haunting voices that keep us company in our darkest moments, which can be a lot of the time when the sun only shines a few hours each day, if at all.
But Hay seems to have fallen too much in love with her own words, too much in love with the North (where she once lived), too much in love with real-life explorer John Hornby (what is it with novelists' need to jam a square peg of historical context into every round-holed narrative?) and too much in love with her characters, whom she gives too much rein to meander about the tundra as they see fit.
Late Nights On Air is the second book on the Giller short list I've read. The other is Michael Ondaatje's Divisadero, which also disappointed me. I don't believe these are the best of the current crop of Canadian novels.
Hay reads Wednesday (October 24), 8 pm, and October 27, 8 pm, as part of the Giller short list program, both at the Premiere Dance Theatre.