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THE PLOT: Hay won both the 2007 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the 2008 Libris Award for Fiction Book of The Year for this novel set in 1970s Yellowknife. It is populated by an eclectic cast of misfit characters whose relationships and personal histories unfold as they work together at a small radio station. Woven into the background are other tensions, like the real-life Mackenzie Valley gas pipeline proposal and the starkness of life in northern Canadian small towns. A major portion of the story sweeps readers out onto the tundra as four characters embark on a canoe trip in the path of English explorer John Hornby, who starved to death on the banks of the Thelon River in 1927. THE AUTHOR: Ontario-born Elizabeth Hay has three published novels, a handful of non-fiction books, and numerous works of short fiction that have earned her wide acclaim, including the Marian Engel award in 2002 for her entire repertoire. Hay spent 10 years as a CBC radio broadcaster (part of that time in Yellowknife), her career taking her to Mexico and eventually, New York City. In 1992, she returned with her family to Ottawa, where she still resides. DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS: “This book needs a map!” was the first comment, in reference to the canoe trip that was, by far, every member’s favourite part of the book. Hay’s description of the tundra landscape was so vivid and evocative, members could practically smell the wildflowers blooming under the rare summer sun. The club also loved Hay’s depiction of an era when a voice over the air was all-important in the still of night, and the passion with which the author wove in the story of the pipeline proposal. In general, though, the group found the book difficult to pick through, partly because of Hay’s overuse of foreshadowing, which, as one member put it, “didn’t just tell us what happened once, but pounded us over the head with it.” Hay forewarns of both trivial and significant events with equal solemnity, which deflates the sense of urgency needed to keep the plot moving. The characters, too, failed to engage. “The characters weren’t very well-drawn, and I kept getting Eleanor and Gwen mixed up during the canoe trip,” said one. “I had to write it all out to keep them straight. When there are only four characters, a person shouldn’t have to do that.” Even sexy, mysterious Dido, around whom the plot is supposed to revolve, didn’t seem to fit into the story, as though her sole narrative purpose was simply to be the seductive voice on air that the washed-up radio veteran, Harry, first falls in love with.

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Profile for Boulevard Magazine

Boulevard Magazine - January/February 2010 Issue  

BOULEVARD MAGAZINE is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Victoria by focusing on the Arts, People, Trends, Fo...

Boulevard Magazine - January/February 2010 Issue  

BOULEVARD MAGAZINE is designed to capture the personality, culture and vitality that is Victoria by focusing on the Arts, People, Trends, Fo...

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