Australian Author Challenge,2017 : The Railwayman’s Wife by Ashley Hay

This book had me at the second paragraph on Page 1:

” It could be any day,any year: call it 1935, 1938, 1945, or somewhere decades away in her future. Perhaps it’s the day after her wedding, the day after her daughter’s birth, the last day of the war, the last day of her life. Whenever it is, Anikka Lachlan is reading, swallowed by the shapes and spaces made by rows of dark letters on pale paper. She wets one finger, not slowly, but absently, and moves it to turn the next page”.

This novel is based in Thirroul, on the NSW South Coast in 1948 and is essentially the tale of three locals who are coming to terms with loss and moving forwards.

Annika loses her husband in a rail accident, and is offered a position in the Railway Library which she accepts in an endeavour to support herself and young daughter. Roy McKinnon has survived the atrocities of WW2 during which he successfully wrote War poetry and is now unable to return to his previous occupation of school teacher as he is so “damaged” that he is also unable to write words in a time of peace. Frank Draper has returned to Thirroul as the local Doctor where prior to the War he courted Roy’s sister. He too is damaged having witnessed the concentration camps of Europe and carries guilt about the lives he was unable to save.

Although this novel tells the story before these three characters engage it is basically an account of how all three move forward over the ensuing twelve months, how they struggle to regain their lives, and how they touch each other’s lives.

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The book moves at a quick pace, and despite the sadness these characters carry, there is much beauty, thanks to the visuals created by the author.

” They catch her unawares this year, these profusion of colour- purple first, when the jacarandas begin to bloom, and then the deep red of Illawarra flame trees.They follow each other into being, bursting out along the coast and up the escarpment. The jacaranda comes with the spring; the flame, a little later, lasts a little longer. They mark Ani’s months; they mark her year”.

Having spent a great deal of time in this part of the world growing up I also found this novel quite nostalgic with its descriptions of the scenery on the rail journey from Thirroul to Sydney, and of the beautiful beaches and rectangular pools at Austinmer.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to enjoy this book at all. I anticipated lots of wishywashy soul searching and wringing of hands. However, I loved this book. This is why the Australian Author Challenge is a buzz.

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