Review: 'The Railwayman's Wife' by Ashley Hay (2013)
In a small town on the land's edge, in the strange space at a war's end, a widow, a poet and a doctor each try to find their own peace, and their own new story.
In Thirroul, in 1948, people chase their dreams through the books in the railway's library. Anikka Lachlan searches for solace after her life is destroyed by a single random act. Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, has lost his words and his hope. Frank McKinnon is trapped by the guilt of those his treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle with the same question: how now to be alive.
Written in clear, shining prose and with an eloquent understanding of the human heart, The Railwayman's Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can be sometimes to tell them apart. It's a story of life, loss and what comes after; of connection and separation, longing and acceptance. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.
Thanks to the lovely people at Allen & Unwin I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Ashley Hay’s novel ‘The Railwayman’s Wife.’ The book was published in April 2013 in Australia (and received some amazing reviews) and has now, in January 2014, reached the UK as well. Ashley Hay has written four non-fiction books and her debut novel, ‘The Body in the Clouds’ was a hit and nominated for numerous awards within the literary world. Understandably, I was quite interested to discover some of Ashley Hay’s fictional work myself, and let’s be honest, who could not be intrigued by a gorgeous cover like the one of ‘The Railwayman’s Wife’?
The book is set in Thirroul, a city in Australia, a few years after the Second World War. Everyone is trying to find their own way after the war, including the three main characters of this novel. Anikka Lachlan is happily married to her husband Mac, with whom she has a ten-year-old daughter named Isabel, but an unexpected event forces her to find new meaning in her life. Roy McKinnon is a poet who experienced the war up close, but now can’t seem to find the words to describe even the simplest things anymore. Frank Draper is a doctor, desperately searching for a way to stop thinking about all the people he simply could not save during the war. Anikka, Roy and Frank are all looking for the same thing: a way to keep on living while the reason and meaning behind it all isn’t quite clear any longer.
The first thing I have to say about this novel is that it is a really emotional read. The author really has her own way with words, describing events and the emotions at the core of particular situations, which really managed to move me. Tragedy intervenes in the lives of each of the three main characters in a different way and they have to overcome this and learn how to deal with it in their own individual ways. Each of the three characters has their own issues to deal with, but I found myself being particularly caught up in Anikka’s story. I really enjoyed how the author used flashbacks to describe other parts of Anikka’s life and how everything led to this point in her existence.
I wouldn’t call this book a page turner I simply couldn’t put down, but in this case that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s more a lyrical novel that has a specific power of words at its centre, captivating and taking over the reader with every page and the emotions it evokes. ‘The Railwayman’s Wife’ is a melancholic and captivating read, one with a story at its core that will break your heart, but in the most beautiful way that will stay with you for quite some time to come!