Wednesday, February 3, 2010

LATE NIGHTS ON AIR by Elizabeth Hay

Dido Paris has just been hired by a radio station in the town of Yellowknife, somewhere in northern Canada. Her striking good looks and silky on-air persona have captured the attention of everyone else at the station, both male and female. Harry, the interim manager, can't take his eyes off of her and makes no secret of his attraction. Meanwhile, he hires Gwen, a 20-something who has fled her Toronto family home and lacks Dido's confidence and ease at the microphone. Dido becomes involved with Eddy, the station's technician, who seems hard and unfriendly and is generally a suspicious character, especially when an elderly woman with a cruel husband goes missing. Dido, Harry, Gwen, and Eddy drive the narrative for the majority of the novel, and their characters are well-formed and distinctive. The big player, though, is the landscape, with its summer flora and dark, unforgiving winters. The main event is a canoe/camping trip that Harry and Gwen take, along with two others, Eleanor and Ralph, to visit the site where the arctic explorer John Hornby and his two cohorts perished from starvation decades earlier. The prose is as smooth and lovely as Dido's voice, and the metaphors describing the sounds and hazards of the barren tundra surely come from someone who's been there. My main complaint about this book is that the author constantly hints at a tragedy to come. This foreboding that pervades the story is wearying and depressing, as if the cold and ice were not bleak enough. I wonder if this was her attempt at softening the blow when disaster finally strikes.

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