The Railwayman’s Wife (NetGalley)
There’s nothing like a story set in a time long ago and a place far away, and Ashley Hay’s new novel The Railwayman’s Wife fills the bill. The fact that the main character Annika Lachlan is a reader and a librarian? Icing on the cake, my friend, icing on the cake. And would you look at this book jacket? I’d pack up and fly away quick as you could say ‘koala’!
Ani grew up in the Australian inlands “on the plains, dry as a biscuit”. When she met and married husband Mac, she moved to the coast where the light is clear and “soft breezes tease and tickle with the lightest scent of salty water”, where the sight of the ocean–vast and rolling–surprises her even after a dozen years. Ani has it all: a lovely home, beautiful garden, sweet little girl, devoted husband. World War II has just ended, vets are returning, and the news–finally–is full of hope.
But of course it’s all too precious, isn’t it? There would be no story if there wasn’t some sort of struggle for Anikka Lachlan–so disaster strikes and struggle she does.
We get the story of Ani’s life with Mac in her memories of him as she tries to make sense of his awful death. (That really isn’t too much of a spoiler since the tragedy occurs in the first several pages.) Ani’s grief is made a little easier by the fact that she begins a job as the town librarian within a few weeks. She busies herself with shelving and ordering and record-keeping, barely managing to keep her overwhelming grief at arm’s length.
One of the first visitors she meets at the library is Roy McKinnon, returning soldier and poet. His best friend Dr. Frank Draper arrives home from the war soon after and the two men attempt to put the war behind them and resume the life it interrupted. But shell shocked and disillusioned, they scramble to regain their footing. The three share a kind of camaraderie in pain–which also brings about healing. And as Ani comes to the place where she can talk about Mac, she hears stories of his life apart from her that make us realize we never really know those to whom we are closest.
Anikka might have “had it all” at the novel’s beginning, but it’s at the end that she embodies a strength and a depth of heart that I admired.
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