Set in scenic Thirroul, an Australian coastal town, a few years after the end of World War II, "The Railwayman's Wife" depicts three main characters. Roy McKinnon is a poet who wrote while in the midst of the war's butchery but, frustratingly, finds neither his voice nor vision now that he is home again. Frank Draper, a physician, is riddled with guilt because he had been unable to help the survivors of a German concentration camp. At home he seeks to reclaim his practice, "ushering in life and death" for his patients. Ani Lachlan is a railway worker's widow.
The novel opens with a compelling scene in which Ani is informed that her husband, Mac, has been killed, crushed between boxcars. As compensation, she is given the job of librarian in the local Railway Institute Library.
Much of the novel's narrative is in the form of flashback. The portrayal of Ani and her 10-year-old daughter currently coping with Mac's absence alternates with chapters relating the back story of Ani and Mac's courtship and early years of marriage.
Author Ashley Hay has succeeded on several levels. Her prose style is simple yet vivid, and her insights on bereavement and moving forward are wise. Perhaps most impressive is her portrayal of the human predicament, the notion that one's heartfelt hopes are sometimes crushed against the rocks of reality.
Katherine Bailey also reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She lives in Bloomington.