The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

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The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A sad but beautifully told tale about the struggle to carry on when something crucial to existence has been removed. Simultaneously philosophical and accessible, it will appeal equally to those of us who like to mull and those of us who are here for a good story.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: January 2014
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1743318010

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Mackenzie and Anikka Lachlan have all they could possibly want. They live in Thirroul, a close New South Wales coastal community, are parents to a lovely little girl and now, in 1948, Mac has come through the war years unscathed due to his job at home on the railways. However in a single moment all their luck changes and Anikka becomes a widow, another grieving shadow. Alongside her neighbours (a war poet who can't write now he's home and the local GP who experienced hell while not being able to bring anyone back from its grasp) Anikka must learn the most difficult lesson: how to go on living.

Australian Ashley Hay has belt-and-braced her writing career. Should the fiction side of things ever diminish, she's also a prize-winning science journalist. However, if this novel's anything to go on she can put her science writing on the furthest back Bunsen. This isn't a bundle of laughs, in fact I never even cracked a grin but in place of hilarity we are treated to a touching study about how people with pieces of their lives missing.

As the chapters slide back and forth in time (not obtrusively or annoyingly) we learn why Ani fell in love with Mac, the dreaming, eloquent émigré Scot. We also see the depths of her despair as Ashley vividly points to the darkness of unanswered questions, bereavement and associated loneliness that can still hit those surrounded by people.

The poet, Roy McKinnon, experiences a different form of incomprehension. Why could he write poetry in the vilest situations but be totally deserted by vocabulary and ability on returning home? Meanwhile Dr Frank Draper goes through the motions of his former pre-war life while coming to terms with his inability to help those he deemed most in need during one of history's blackest eras.

Ashley writes her prose with a poetic flow that stands up well against the poetry her characters quote from real-world sources like Sassoon, Yeats and Barrett-Browning. A glowing mention should also be reserved for Stephen Edgar who writes such a beautiful, sensitive poem as a pivotal plot piece that it deserves a life of its own beyond the book's pages. Ashley does Stephen justice though, making his tender words part of the sort of gasp-worthy twist that would make Thomas Hardy spin in his grave with jealousy.

As for the question raised by the novel, we all know there's no single answer, no magic. Somehow with the help of love, memories and hope, some people are able to carry on. With her own words woven cleverly among those of others, Ashley has written a tribute to these people as well as a memorial to those who, perhaps more understandably, stopped holding on for each sunrise.

We'd like to thank Allen & Unwin for providing us with a copy for review.

Further Reading: If you enjoyed this, we also recommend the equally moving Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding.

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Buy The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay at

Booklists.jpg The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay is in the Top Ten Literary Fiction Books of 2014.


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