Thursday, May 21, 2009

Late Nights on Air

There's a lot to like about Late Nights On Air by Elizabeth Hay, winner of the 2007 Giller Prize.

The times — the early 70's and a pipeline proposed to run through tundra — the voices that tried to stop its progress out of concern for what it would do to animal migration and indigenous people. Now the damage has been done but it is small comfort for those looking back to say "I told you so."

Radio itself, and the chance to have complete and total freedom because no one really kept an eye on the hinterlands. Neophytes and has-beens working side-by-side and inventing their own industry.

The landscape — snow in July, tiny willow trees that take decades to grow a few inches, miniature pink blossoms hidden in the rock. Vast empty space. Ice. Perfectly still water that a canoe can float on like glass. "On the lake the ice was green, the snow lavender."

The characters, but the women in particular. Quirky, growing into themselves. Distinct. Interesting.

... And the dynamics of love. Lovers give up pieces of themselves. "I've seen couples like that. He won't let her do things and she likes that. He'll get her to do other things, and she'll like that too." (Teresa talking about Dido and Eddy). In this story, love itself creates blind spots, leaves you vulnerable and open to damage. Sometimes the wounds don't heal. Sitting on the sidelines doesn't work because love pulls you in, even when you're not aware it's happening "... being in love with someone and not knowing it."

Hay has been compared with Allende and I can see why, not only in creating such strong women characters but also the many paradoxes of love. How it complicates everything, yet makes it all worthwhile; diminishes us and yet makes us bigger than we are. Sometimes simultaneously!

The book will be the subject of discussion at the Book Babes AGM this weekend - I'm looking forward to hearing how the Babes liked it (or not... but how could you not?). We'll see.

Listen to a podcast of Elizabeth Hay talking to Shelagh Rogers about life in Yellowknife and Late Nights on Air.

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