Ashley Hay is an Australian author, so many of us may not have heard of her or her books. But, The Railwayman's Wife was published in Australia and the UK, and went on to win or be a finalist for prestigious awards in Australia. Now, we're lucky enough to have this quiet, moving novel available in the U.S.
The story is set in the Australian coastal town of Thirroul in 1948, in the aftermath of World War II. People are still broken, the war widows, the veterans drifting home even a couple years after the war. Anikka Lachlan feels fortunate. Her husband, Mac, works for the railway so he was needed at home. The couple lead a quiet life, celebrating birthdays and special days with their daughter, Isabel, who is about to turn ten. In fact, they're getting ready to make a special occasion of Isabel's birthday when Mac is killed in a railway accident.
The representative from the railway promises Anikka she'll be compensated, and offers her the job at the Railway Institute library where the present librarian is retiring. Although it means changes to the family schedule, Ani accepts, because she doesn't know how she was going to fill her days with Mac. But, she's now a celebrity of sorts, the newest widow in town. "She had never appreciated before the lovely anonymity of an unremarkable life."
Ani isn't as anonymous as she would like to be. Roy McKinnon, a poet returned from the war, unable to write, is fascinated by the woman who seems to shine with an inner light. She, unknowingly, becomes his inspiration.
Can a novel be said to be graceful? Hay introduces a small community of people still suffering from the aftershocks of war, and, in Ani's case, death. Roy is unable to write, or to sleep. His friend, Dr. Frank Draper, once dated Roy's sister, and went to war to see the world. He saw death, and now he's returned, knowing "Nothing will ever be all right." The book is told in present tense, as Ani and Roy, and even Mac, experience the events in their quiet lives. But, in a novel that's intense in it's philosophical wonderings, Hay explores the pain and loneliness and loss in quiet lives.
Quiet. Ashley Hay's The Railwayman's Wife is a quiet novel of desperation. It's beautiful, a story that seems simple but is as complicated and painful as life itself. Just beautiful.
Ashley Hay's website is www.ashleyhay.com.au
The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay. Atria Books. 2013/2016. ISBN 9781501112171 (hardcover), 269p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.