For all the fanfare that accompanied this work as it burst into my consciousness, I have emerged from reading it feeling somewhat flat about saying I found it disappointing. A new author (to me), a prize winner, an Aussie, one who lives in my hometown, highly acclaimed, it came with all the high expectations linked to those attracting attributes. Maybe I expected too much, set standards too high.
Don't get me wrong, this is not a bad book. It just doesn't do it for me, that's all.
Mind you, I would not call it a good book either. My three stars suggest a passing grade. It is well put together, a story imagined creatively, with potentially interesting characters, set in a famous literary place. It is quite nicely written, with many a neat descriptive sentence.
So what's my beef?
It's all too sweet, too nice, the characters too sugary for my tastes. In a small country setting there doesn't appear to be a single bitch, not one grumpy old bastard who hates dogs and children, not one nasty gossip, no drunken old sot trying to seduce some younger widow. No one snarls, the husband and wife protagonists (yes, it's mainly about her, and her thoughts and feelings, from her point of view, but it is called The Railwayman's Wife after all - throwing emphasis back his way) moon with their devoted love, never issuing a complaint, never once a tut tut about dirty undies left on the floor, or lunch sandwiches with that sausage she never seems to remember he can't stand, never once a smidgen of a tiff, and a child who in her very mature ten or eleven years doesn't ever seem to whinge, to cry, to be selfishly self-concerned.
The railwayman dies but we never learn anything of the circumstances. Officially: an accident at work. Was he an innocent victim of a terrible mistake? Or was he being a jerk, like the time he negligently disembarked his traveling engine to go gathering berries? The silence on this smothers it and him in sweetness. Another potential love interest dies also, of a suicide drowning after gifting the widow a love poem - but it too is all kept low key near the end of the tale - sweetly passed over in some way, because he was a traumatised war veteran after all.
And, most important for me, I don't see great literature here. No depth or levels of meaning (or have I in my Philistine way, missed them). I see a tale of almost youthful romance - with hats doffed to war and hard lives - a bit of poetry in the mix to add to and break up the prose.
As I said, I take my three star rating to indicate a solid passing grade.