Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reader's Diary #346- Elizabeth Hay: Late Nights On Air (FINISHED)

As I'm moving to Yellowknife in the next few months, I had an added fascination to Late Nights On Air that most readers probably wouldn't have. Granted a lot of time has passed since Hay lived there in the 1970s (the time setting of this novel) and now, some 30 years later.

Perhaps it's that time in between that first got me to thinking of bell curves. And as I read on, that image wouldn't leave me but became almost symbolic of Hay's narrative. I've read more than a few authors and readers lately question the idea of having a beginning and an ending. In real life, they argue, there are no such clearly defined boundaries. Such logic makes sense to me, but then, I question if a story is meant to be life, or merely a representation? With Late Nights On Air, Hay seems to have found a compromise: the narrative exists in the bubble of a bell curve, a curve whose edges never quite meet the horizontal axis. In other words, Hay has clearly created a time and a space for her plot(s), but through (thankfully) moderate use of flashbacks and foreshadowing acknowledges that beginnings and endings are a bit fuzzy. She's done a great job with the balance.

It seemed that Late Nights On Air got me thinking a lot about literature. When Dido remarks that explorer John Hornby must have been a masochist, Gwen takes offense. She remarks that the word leaves nothing to say, "It's the end of the story. You've written him off. Explained him to death." The whole conversation could be taken as a commentary on the characters within Late Nights On Air. At the beginning, it would perhaps have been easy to label Hay's characters. Dido as a femme fatale, maybe? But as the novel progresses, it is revealed that what first appeared to be stereotypical characters were infinitely complex beings.

And though no review I've read has dared to call Late Nights On Air a love story, romance makes up the bulk of the novel. Perhaps the term "romance novel" would sell the novel short. It certainly doesn't meet the vacant connotations implied. Again Hay acknowledges the complexities of interpersonal relationships and seems to write her own defense:
"Gwen smiled and relaxed. She put the book down and returned to a party that seemed more complicated in its social tensions than the straightforward business of starving to death. A party she found touching and baffling and tiring and hard to navigate."

It could be considered hypocritical to have an obvious theme, when the theme is that simplicity is an illusion. Still, Hay manages to explore this beautifully and using Yellowknife, especially at that point in history, worked tremendously well.

The Soundtrack
1. Moonlight Sonata- Beethoven
2. Helpless- Neil Young
3. She's Like The Swallow- True North Brass
4. Good Morning Heartache- Billie Holiday
5. Blow The Wind Southerly- Kathleen Ferrier


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I've been hearing about this book. In fact I believe I heard Elizabeth Hay interviewed on CBC, and it struck me as a book that I would like to read, partly for the northern setting.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Hay is apparently visiting Yellowknife again as part of a book tour. Unfortunately it's in May and I don't get there until late June. Would be nice to meet her though.

Unknown said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it - just something about it I didn't like.
I was just glad I finally finished it!

I also finished book 7 for the challenge - another classic: Anne of Green Gables. so many good books I haven't read yet!

John Mutford said...

Jen: As I said in the post, perhaps my moving to Yellowknife gives the book an added attraction for me. Looking over the other reviews of this book for the Canadian Book Challenge, not many were positive. It's not often I find myself siding with the Giller judges over my peers!

John Mutford said...

Here are a few more reviews: Pickle Me This, Metro Mama, Steve, Pooker, Jen, and Ragdoll. If you've also read and reviewed this book, feel free to leave a link.

John Mutford said...

No shortage of reviews on this one! Here's another on the positive side from Teddy Rose.

John Mutford said...

And another glowing review from Traveler One.

John Mutford said...

Read JK's review here.

John Mutford said...

Wanda's Review.

Wanda said...

Funny how some books will cause certain songs to go into autoplay in your head.

"And in my mind I still need a place to go
All my changes were there