Culture Street


The Railwayman's Wife by Ashley Hay

On April 22, 2013

By Sophia Whitfield

Set in the aftermath of the Second World War, in the NSW seaside town of Thirroul, The Railwayman’s Wife is a beautiful meditation on loss and acceptance. Hay draws her characters together, all of them deeply affected by tragedy, trapped in a small town where secrets of the past can no longer lie hidden.

Anikka and her daughter Isabel are reeling from an unimaginable loss, a loss Ani cannot blame on the war, but one that binds her to other fractured residents of Thirroul, recently returned from the war.

Dr Frank Draper and Roy McKinnon have both been damaged by the war, each a shadow of their former selves. Frank Draper attempts to content himself with the requirements of a small town doctor, while Roy, a poet, is struggling to find the words that used to come so easily to him. Roy’s sister Iris has waited for Frank Draper, her former sweetheart, to return, but he is not the same man that left years before. These four characters find each other, spending time together they begin to discover they have more than grief in common.

The novel draws on a number of sources, most notably D.H. Lawrence’s novel Kangaroo, set in the same seaside town. References to literature abound in this novel. When we first meet Ani she is reading a book to the sound of the trains in the background, a constant in this small town.

“From outside, across the roofs of this small town, comes a sharp line of noise – a train’s brakes and the squeal of wheel on rail, metal on metal.”

As a result of her tragic circumstances Ani is appointed librarian at the Railway Institute’s central library where she takes solace in words and attempts to inspire Roy to continue writing his poetry.

The Railwayman’s Wife is a beautifully-drawn portrait of the aftermath of war, grief and fractured relationships. Emotionally taut and eloquently written, this is sure to be an award winner.




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