There is no beautiful now, no terrible then, just these trails of things going on and on.
The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hays, takes place in a small coastal village in Australia in 1948. Technically the Great War has been over for three years but there are still echoes, whether news of trials for war crimes, PTSD, or the surfeit of widows within the community. Annika Lachlan is not a war widow; her husband Mac’s job with the railway was considered too essential for him to be sent away, but in a bitter irony, that work also results in his sudden horrific death anyway, and Ani is left in sorrow and doubt. Needing to support herself and her daughter she takes a job at the local library where she finds the cathedral-like setting soothing and takes comfort immersing herself in books.
She’s not the only one to do so; at the library she soon befriends dreamy poet Roy McKinnon and the acerbic Dr. Frank Draper. Both men are two of those shell shocked war veterans who now haunt the world. And soon all three try to heal and forge new connections to the world.
It’s said that the joy of literature isn’t in the endings (be they happy or sad), but in the journey and that’s definitely the case here. Ashley Hays writes with a beauty and lyricism that’s simply breathtaking to experience. Rather than favoring Big Drama Events, she concentrates on the smaller moments; be it Mac and Ani buying their daughter a kaleidoscope for her birthday, Ani’s first Christmas after her husband’s death, Roy’s walks by the sea, etc. Things that on the surface seem deceptively light but actually contain the whole of human experience. Hays always brings a rich, textured, understanding to her characters inner lives which are handled with the utmost sensitivity.
The Railwayman’s Life