Review: The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

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☆➹⁀☆☆ 3.5 – 4 Stars ☆➹⁀☆☆



What it’s about:

Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel.

When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story.

But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves.

The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. 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.

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The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay is a melancholy yet beautiful tale of love, loss and grief. This story is set in the small coastal village of Thirroul, New South Wales, Australia a couple years after the end of WWII.

Hay’s prose is exquisite.   Her vivid descriptions made for bucolic images of the town and its people while reading. The Railwayman’s Wife is told in dual time periods; the story of Ani’s and Mac’s early relationship is interspersed with the story of Ani’s grief after his fatal accident. The novel proceeds at a leisurely pace with most of the action taking place in the minds of the main characters as they struggle to move on post trauma.

Anikka and Mackenzie Lachlan have been married for over 10 years, and they have a precocious 10 year old daughter named Isabel. The close-knit family doesn’t have a lot, but they creatively show their love for one another with unique gifts and outings. Their idyllic life by the beach includes shelling, bird watching, and cartwheels on the beach. While they are untouched by the war, several of the town’s men have returned with deep psychological wounds. Roy McKinnon, teacher turned poet, is struck by the beauty of his hometown, but it doesn’t inspire him to write as the horrors of war did. Dr. Frank Draper is deeply affected by the POW who he couldn’t save during the war, and he struggles to find the confidence needed to resume his practice at home and to reconnect with his girlfriend, Iris McKinnon (Roy’s sister).

This motely group of grievers meet at the town library which, along with books, plays a central role in the story. Their inner turmoil is evident through their literature and poetry discussions.   Ani’s mixed emotions over the loss of her husband are as clear as Roy’s growing affection for her. The dynamics among the three are interesting, and Hay’s story seems to question whether a happily-ever-after is ever possible.

Our nature as readers is to look for characters to arrive at a destination at the end of the story, not just to enjoy their company for a brief part of their journey.  The Railwayman’s Wife is beautifully written and explores grief, loss and the complexities of love.  It leaves you with much to ponder. There is no big, explosive culminating event that leads to the quintessential HEA, but The Railwayman’s Wife is an enjoyable meandering through the lives of Thirroul’s survivors.


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