The Railwayman’s Wife

Written by Ashley Hay
Review by Rebecca Henderson Palmer

Anikka (Ani) Lachlan is the title character in this novel, which is set after World War II in Thirroul, a coastal town outside of Sydney, Australia. When her husband, Mac, dies in a railroad accident, her grief is all-consuming, and she spends much of the next year searching for a hidden birthday present he promised her before his death. Ani takes a job at the Railway Institute’s library to support herself and her daughter, and despite her job’s proximity to trains, Ani slowly comes into her own. Meanwhile, poet Roy McKinnon has returned from the war, scarred by his experiences, and stays with his sister in this small town where he, like D. H. Lawrence before him, tries to find literary inspiration. As Roy struggles to create poetry again, he discovers an unlikely muse. Ani discovers a poem, dedicated to her, tucked amongst her books and assumes it’s the present Mac meant for her. When someone tells her that Roy, not Mac, was the true author, life has already changed in an unalterable way.

This story is a study in emotion: grief, hope, love, redemption, and yearning. The prose is so elegant that it seems to glide, and the feelings are so wrenching and deep that it’s almost uncomfortable to read in places. The journey is touching, but it’s quite different from the tidy, happy endings Ani and her daughter so enjoy. The twists of fate the characters endure remind us how precious, but mystifying, life truly is.