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“Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay

January 15, 2009
"Late Nights on Air" by Elizabeth Hay

"Late Nights on Air" by Elizabeth Hay

I just finished reading “Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read since I first heard about it almost a year ago, but due to various circumstances never had a chance to pick up until my boyfriend’s mother told me her thoughts on it at Christmas time while we were working in the kitchen. “I’ve been meaning to read that book.” I said, a whistful note to my voice while I thought about the hundreds of books I’ve been meaning to read. “I have it, would you like it?” She replied. I promptly took her up on the offer and she rumaged through her book shelves and presented it to me that evening.

To be quite honest, I really didn’t know much about the book, other than it was about a northern radio station and the personalities that frequent it. I was was not prepared for Elizabeth Hay’s wonderfully descriptive words, the way she could change mid paragraph from being inside one characters head, to being inside another, and all of this without confusing the reader! She took liberties with sentences, sometimes having but one word in a sentence. But it worked. That word would not have had the same impact if it had been mearly attatched to a sentence with a comma. I loved the characters she created and the way she would, with the utmost ease, bring to their minds references from their childhood, be it smell, sound, or sight.

I also appreciated how the book was based in the north, having spent many years growing up in the north myself. Granted, this book was based much farther north than I lived. But I have travelled north of the 60th parallel, and I know, from first hand experience the kind of landscape that was described and that set the mood for the book. I know how short the nights in summer get the further north you go, and how it seems sometimes like day doesn’t end and there is a strange sensation in seeing the sun still well above the horizon as the clock passes 11pm. I remember complaining to my parents as a child that if the sun hadn’t gone to bed then I shouldn’t have to go to bed either. Of course their answer was to buy thick shades that turned my room pitch black. I am not of native decent, but my whole life my family was always involved in the outdoors. My father is a hunter, a forestry technician and an open minded enviromentalist who is, at the moment, running his own enviromental business and is envriormental consultant for one of the first Northern BC wind farms which will produce renewable energy. My mom grew up on a farm in Southern Manitoba and her family has long depended on the land for their livelyhood. They respected it as something unpredictable and changing. So in my growing up respect and connection to the earth was just another part of life. And so to read a book that held the same amour and respect for the north as I hold in the my heart was a refreshing thing. Especially because right now, the north is so far away from where I am now. There nature is so close, and to me, going into nature is the most perfect way to clear my head and see things for what they are. In the city I live now, nature, while the tourism industry says that we’re surrounded by it, it’s not easy to get to. And it’s not the nature I’m used to. It’s manicured paths and planned forests and ski hills. It’s not wild, and untamed. You can’t stand on a mountain side and know that you are the only person for miles.

Somedays I miss that. Of course, as Elizabeth Hay writes, sometimes the smaller the community, the hard it is to avoid those you wish to avoid.

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