Friday, May 6, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay - #review

Amidst the strange, silent aftermath of World War II, a widow, a poet, and a doctor search for lasting peace and fresh beginnings in this internationally acclaimed, award-winning novel.

When Anikka Lachlan’s husband, Mac, is killed in a railway accident, she is offered—and accepts—a job at the Railway Institute’s library and searches there for some solace in her unexpectedly new life. But in Thirroul, in 1948, she’s not the only person trying to chase dreams through books. There’s Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, but who has now lost his words and his hope. There’s Frank Draper, trapped by the guilt of those his medical treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle to find their own peace, and their own new story.

But along with the firming of this triangle of friendship and a sense of lives inching towards renewal come other extremities—and misunderstandings. In the end, love and freedom can have unexpected ways of expressing themselves.

The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can sometimes be to tell them apart. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.



Anikka lives in Thirroul on the coast of Australia, south of Sydney.  She had lived inland for most of her life, and didn't see the ocean for the first time until after she married Mac Lachlan  Mac worked for the railroad and was killed on the job.  His injuries were so severe and the body in such a condition that it was decided that he should be cremated right away, in part at least to spare Anikka the pain of seeing her husband like that.

Roy went to fight in WWII.  During his service, he wrote a poem about the horrors of war.  It was published and garnered Roy some fame as a poet.  Returning home from the war, Roy finds that his muse has deserted him.  He wonders why he cannot seem to write poetry about the beauty of his surroundings instead of conditions during the war.

Frank is a doctor, who returns home three years after the end of the war.  As we all know, doctors can save some of their patients, sometimes they do not survive.  Frank has taken personally the death of some of his patients, feeling they died because his skills were not up to the task.  Frank and Roy's sister were apparently an item before the war, but Frank's sense of despair prevents him from renewing that relationship when he comes back to town to take up practice.

All three of these people have been faced with terrible, terrible losses.  And all of them must find a way to (no pun intended) soldier on.

Anikka is offered the job of librarian.  I don't know if the following was standard for the time, or the location, but the library is across from the railway station.  Anikka mentions how hard it is sometimes to hear the train whistles day in and out, when a train is what killed her husband.  Luckily in the library, there are books and patrons to allow her mind to focus on something else.  Two of those patrons are Roy and Frank.

The Railwayman's Wife was particularly interesting in that it was told from various points of view: Anikka, Roy, Frank, and even Mac.  The action takes place in the present and in the past.   I enjoyed getting glimpses into the characters' pasts and it allows readers to compare and contrast each character's actions in the past and present.

Ms. Hay's use of descriptive allows us to immerse ourselves in the world of the book.  We see, hear, touch, smell and taste Thirroul of the late 1940s.  I've always thought one could 'taste' the salty tang  of oceans.

We all, at some point, suffer loss of a loved one; we all, at some point, have inner demons to battle.  While the cause may be in the past,  we can only act in the present.  The Railwayman's Wife is a poignant reminder that brings us back to ourselves.



Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of four nonfiction books, including The Secret: The Strange Marriage of Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron, and the novels The Body in the Clouds and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.

For more information please visit Ashley Hay’s website.


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(Disclosure:  I received this book from the author and publishers via Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours, in exchange for my honest review.  This post contains affiliate links.)


  1. It sounds the different points of view really came together to tell a heart wrenching tale about loss and moving on despite having lost a part of themselves along the way.

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Olivia. Everyone in the book was suffering some kind of loss. But then, it was set in post-WWII Australia.