Sunday, January 19, 2020

Read Off the Shelf: The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

It's taken me a few weeks to read this novel. I think part of that stems from the writing. It is absolutely beautiful, and you want to linger over it. I haven't read anything like this in a very long time. I read a review that said this was written like a very long poem, and I'd have to say that is what this novel reminded me of--a poem. 

Poems are a big part of this tale of Ani, Mac, Roy, Iris, and Frank. Set in 1948 in the small Australian coastal town of Thirroul, Ani and Mac Lachlan and their ten year old daughter Isabel are pretty happy. Mac works for the railway, and Ani takes care of the house. They are deeply in love, and looking forward to celebrating Isabel's upcoming birthday. The war is finally over, and people just want to forget it ever happened. 

Things change suddenly for Ani when Mac is killed in a railway accident. It sends her reeling, and into a new life where she has to work and take care of herself and Isabel. Offered a job at the railway library, she's surrounded by books, which give her comfort in remembering the ways she and Mac connected through their love of books. As Ani slowly moves through her first year of widowhood, she becomes friends with Iris, Roy, and Frank. Roy, a former school teacher turned poet, has returned from the war battered and unable to write poetry. He is a lost soul, still stuck in the past and struggling to see the beauty in the world. Frank, a doctor, has returned from the war unable to take care of patients because of the guilt he felt in failing to save so many who survived the war, only to die soon after from starvation and the horrors of the concentration camps. 

As they all move through the year, they slowly start to heal, each in their own way. 

I can't say any more about what happens in this novel. You must discover that for yourself. I can say my heart took a hit at the end. This is a character driven novel--not much happens. It's a quiet look at life unfolding, grief, and the horrors of war. It's about rebuilding a life that has been shattered. The descriptions of the beach, the weather, the sea...everything, really. Just beautiful writing. I found myself longing for a beach and warm weather. 

Ah!  This is a novel that will leave you with a whole bunch of emotions. Some folks hated the end, others couldn't get to the end and gave up. I stuck through it, and it finally clicked and then I couldn't put it down. It was a good exercise in patience for me, when I try and read quickly to get through my books and onto the next. This one forces you to slow down and linger. 

I'm glad to have made a start plucking a book off my TBR pile. 

Rating: 3/6 for a novel that has quite possibly some of the most poetic writing I've had the pleasure of reading in quite some time. Grief, beginnings and endings, expectations, and living life day by day are big themes. Definitely a book that it worth the time to read. 

This novel is available in paperback, audio, and ebook. Published in 2016.