A year in the lives of Anikka "Ani" Lachlan, a young widow, and Roy McKinnon, a poet back from the World War II battlefield, provides a bittersweet tale of adjustment to life’s tragedies.
Hay’s lovely language and imagery overlay grim content. Death is death, but does it matter how one died...or why? How do you go on after a loss? And why should you? Ani struggles to gain a foothold as her idyllic life on Australia’s rugged coast is tragically altered after her railway-man husband's death in an accident. Inherent optimism, love for her child, and the community’s support—and perhaps thoughts of her new friend Roy—provide her strength. Roy fights emotional battle scars and finds himself unable to write the profound poems he wrote during the war. He looks to Ani for his healing, and she becomes both his muse and secret love. His breakthrough poem is about Ani, and as he waits for her to acknowledge it, never daring to ask what she thought of it, his despondency grows. Ultimately Ani and Roy find their own ways into a new peace. Hay shifts between past and present to gradually pull together the fullness of her subject: life’s randomness—why, for example, one person dies while another “keeps walking clear.” The narrative flows slowly to its unsettling conclusion. Hay is both cerebral and emotional in portraying life’s catastrophes and the way people cope. As if her message is too raw to lay out in blazing color, she camouflages it in poetry and half-seen images—and it works. The message is clear, and the shocks are softened but no less there.
Multilayered, graceful, couched in poetry, supremely honest, gentle yet jarring, Hay’s thought-provoking novel pulls you along slowly, like a deep river that is deceptively calm but full of hidden rapids. Much to ponder.