|UK & Australian cover|
During this painful time, she develops friendships with some of her neighbors, including Roy McKinnon, who fears that his gift for poetry deserted him in peacetime, and Frank Draper, a doctor who can’t escape his past failure to prevent the deaths of recently liberated concentration camp victims. Ani is taken aback by Frank’s occasional brusqueness but comes to realize where it comes from.
This is a bittersweet, introspective novel that follows people’s search for hope and understanding even in the most trying circumstances. It evokes Ani’s feelings not only of loss also but of frustration at life’s unfairness, since she and Mac had come through years of war unscathed only for him to die tragically young anyway. It’s also understandably strange for her to spend her days surrounded by the sound of trains, one of which killed her husband.
Chapters about their married life, but seen from Mac’s viewpoint, add to the story’s poignancy and originality. Through these sections – which feel shocking when first encountered, because one doesn’t expect to reach the minds of the dead – we learn how much Mac strived to make himself feel worthy of her.
The Railwayman’s Wife is too deep and multilayered of a book to offer simple answers, but eloquently describes how people seek their own paths out of bereavement and loss.
This was a personal purchase; I’d bought the UK edition (Allen & Unwin, 2014) back when it came out, before I heard that a US edition would be published (Atria/Simon & Schuster, April 2016, $26). This is my second entry in the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
For background on the story, see Ashley Hay's essay in Library Journal: Reading the Rails: How Australia's Historic Railway Libraries Inspired a Novel.