Terse and laconic. This is how one reader described Hay’s Giller prize-winning book. In fact, this wasn’t just “one reader”, for, although I am not aware of his name, I am aware of who the man is. A distinguished gentleman in his 60s, well read, in comfortable casual wear (this is how I describe men who wear ties without jackets or jackets without ties) used these precise words when discussing the book with the author herself. This was at my first Harvard book club meeting of Ottawa, to which Elizabeth Hay was the guest speaker.
She wasn’t so much a speaker as an interrogated witness, but nonetheless, it was a joy hearing her discuss a novel that I found to be quaintly Canadiana. Seemingly a tale on radio life north of 60, the denouement revolves around a band of Yellowknifers’ canoe trip to the Barrens, where the spacious and wanting landscape provide them with an opportunity to explore more about themselves than they would have perhaps bargained for.
In the Netherlands the light was long and gradual too, but more meadowy, more watery, or else hazier, depending on where you were. . . . Here, it was subarctic desert, virtually unpopulated, and the light was uniformly clear.