So I finally finished reading Elizabeth Hay’s novel. I don’t know why it took me so long (6 weeks). Shortly after I finished my BA (yes in French Literature and English) I used to consume books at a rate not dissimilar to what was expected in my courses. But now I read probably only 6-8 novels/year. It’s not for lack of love. Books move me and get under my skin like no other art form. I enjoy a great film and can weep at objects or paintings in a gallery, but stories told by text on the page seem to stay with me for longer, leave a greater impression. At any rate, Late Nights on Air is no exception. I am still thinking about the details several days after turning the last page. It’s not so much that this is the best novel I’ve ever read. In fact, I would call it only good, not great. But what I loved – and what did leave me crying in the Sheraton Hotel bar at Toronto’s airport nearly 3 weeks ago – is how Hay evokes the north in her prose. While reading, I kept post-its handy and I would flag all the lines and paragraphs that captured the north in all the ways that I could not describe my experience in Whitehorse to others.
These are three of my favourite passages and three photos from my time in Whitehorse. I like these passages because they evoke my own experience and because they seem so piercingly accurate it’s as if she crawled into my brain and drew out the words I wanted to use.
“Officially the June sun set close to midnight and rose three hours later, but it never got dark. Dusk, yes. Between sunrise and sunset there was a soft sort of dusk and the street lights came on, but nobody needed them or noticed them. The constant light was like endless caffeine.”
“Around Yellowknife, the miniature birches and poplars changed colour in August. For about two weeks they were a ravishing yellow-gold. It was quite astonishing, but so fast: every single leaf was on every single tree and every single leaf was yellow. Farther south, colour gathered on some leaves as others fell, and you only ever got a piece of the whole, but here you had all of the glory at once, and then it was gone.”
On a bike ride in mid-September (photo taken by P Gowdie).
“By evening the sky was clear. The light luminous and rich. Not as brilliant as the Mediterranean… Gentler. Almost autumnal. The hills didn’t have light on them, they were in light, the way something is in water.”