Title: The Railwayman’s Wife
Author: Ashley Hay
Year: 2016 (Original: 2013)
Publisher: Atria Books
Time taken to read: 8 days
Goodreads synopsis: 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.
I almost don’t want to write this post because I don’t want to add the “Historical Fiction” category to my list because I know I’ll never read another historical fiction book because I hate them. I don’t have any memory of reading historical fiction before this one, but I always knew I would hate them because I always hated history class, and also because historical fiction books are always somehow about war, and I don’t like war, I’m not interested in reading about it, fiction or otherwise, therefore historical fiction is stupid.
I also don’t really want to write this post because I don’t really know how to critique historical fiction. For example, I think all the dialogue in this book sounds like complete bogus, and no one from any decade would ever speak so poetically and so obnoxiously. But do I really know that? No. Because I don’t know anything about the 1940s. But I do know that a story is a story, regardless of its setting, and stories have movement, and they have to have things that are happening, and I never felt like anything was happening in this book. It was like 80% flashbacks, first of all, and I zoned out through so many paragraphs and barely bothered to reread them. I wasn’t interested in anyone or anything until Ani starts obsessing over that poem that she thinks Mac wrote, which was, like, thirty pages from the end. I wanted to see how she would find out that he didn’t write it and how devastated she would be, but that wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped. I almost quit reading this so many times, but I had already said I was reading it on Goodreads, so I pushed through it, but I was constantly checking to see how many pages I had left. With most books, I start to forget that the characters aren’t real, and I feel for them so deeply, but these characters never came off the page like that for me. I was very aware that I was reading a piece of fiction the entire time. Also, Roy was really creepy. Why was he in her house? Why did he think that was okay? Her husband just died. Except he didn’t “just” die. Apparently at that point he had been dead almost a year, but there was no indication of the passage of so much time. I thought it had been a couple of weeks, but all of a sudden they’re wondering what to do for the anniversary of his death, and I was very confused. Anyway, I am very happy to be finished with this book and to be moving on to something new.