“Exquisite…a rich, meditative novel that explores the connectivity of people living in the same geographical space across the distance of time.” —New York Times Book Review
From the acclaimed author of the “exquisitely written and deeply felt” (Geraldine Brooks, author of The Secret Chord) novel The Railwayman’s Wife comes a magical and gorgeously wrought tale of an astonishing event that connects three people across three hundred years.
Imagine you looked up at just the right moment and saw something completely unexpected. What if it was something so marvelous that it transformed time and space forever?
The Body in the Clouds tells the story of one such extraordinary moment—a man falling from the sky, and surviving—and of the three men who see it, in different ways and at different times, as they stand on the same piece of land. An astronomer in the 1700s, a bridge worker in the 1930s, and an expatriate banker returning home in the early twenty-first century: all three are transformed by this one magical event. And all three are struggling to understand what the meaning of “home” is, and how to recognize it once you’re there.
Widely praised for her “poetic gifts” (Booklist) and “graceful, supremely honest, [and] thought-provoking” (Kirkus Reviews) prose, Ashley Hay has crafted a luminous and unforgettable novel about the power of story, its ability to define the world around us, and the questions that transcend time.
The Body in the Clouds Into the Blue FROM ABOVE, from some angles, it looked like a dance. There were men, machines, and great lengths of steel, and they moved in together, taking hold of each other and fanning out in a particular series of steps and gestures. The painters swept their grey brushes across red surfaces. The cookers tossed the bright sparks of hot rivets across the air in underarm arcs. The boilermakers bent to the force of their air guns, rivets pounding into holes, and sprang back with the release of each one. The riggers stepped wide across the structure’s frame, trailing a web of fixtures and sure points behind them.
From above, from some angles, it looked like a waltz, and a man might count sometimes in his head to keep his mind on the width of the steel cord on which he stood, on the kick of the air gun on which he leaned, on the strength of the join created by each hot point of metal. To keep his mind off how far he stood above the earth’s surface. One, two, three; one, two, three—there was a rhythm to it, and a grace. They were dancing a bridge into being, counting it out across the air.
Halfway through a day; brace, two, three; punch, two, three; ease, two, three; bend, two, three; and it was coming up to midday. It was one way to keep your concentration. Here was the rivet, into the hole, a mate holding it in position, the gun ready, the rivet fixed, the job marked off. And again.
Brace, punch, ease, bend—the triple beat beneath each action tapped itself out through your feet into the steel sometimes, and other times it faded under the percussive noise of the rest of the site.
Perhaps that was all that happened; perhaps there was a great surge of staccato from another part of the bridge and he lost his place in the rhythm. Lost his beat, lost his time. Because although he bent easily, certain of what he was doing, when he went to straighten up, his feet were no longer where they should have been, his back was no longer against the cable of rope the riggers had strung into place. When he straightened up, he was in the air, the sky above him, heavy with steel clouds, the water below, an inky blue.
He was falling towards the harbor—one, two, three.
And it was the strangest thing. Time seemed to stutter, the curl of his somersault stretched into elegance, and then the short sharp line of his plunge cut into the water. The space too, between the sky and the small push and pull of the waves: you could almost hear its emptiness ringing, vast and elastic.
On the piece of land he liked best, the land near the bridge’s southeastern footprint, Ted Parker looked up from patting the foreman’s dog and saw—so fast, it was extraordinary—a man turn half a somersault and drop down, down, down into the blue. The surprise of witnessing it, of turning at just the right time, of catching it, and then his head jarred back, following the water’s splash almost up to the point where the fall had begun. All around, men were diving in—from the northern side, from the barge where Ted should have been working, from the southern side where he stood.
In they went, and down, and here was the fallen man, coming up between their splashing and diving. The top of his head broke through the water and the miracle of it: he was alive.
Along the site, men had stopped and turned, staring and waiting. On the water, people bunched at the bow rails of ferries and boats; a flutter of white caught Ted’s eye and was a woman’s white-gloved hands coming up to her mouth, dropping down to clutch the rail, coming up to her mouth again. He could almost hear her gasp. And it seemed that he could see clear across the neck of the harbor too, and into the fellow’s eyes—so blue; Ted was sure he could see them—blue and clear and wide, as if they’d seen a different world of time and place.
He thought: What is this? He thought: What is happening here? And he felt his chest tighten in a strange knot of exhilaration, and wonder, and something oddly calm—like satisfaction, like familiarity.
At his knee, he felt the butt of a furry head as the dog he’d been patting pushed hard against him.
“You’re all right, Jacko,” he said, turning the softness of its ears between his fingers. “Just a bit of a slip somewhere.”
Ashley Hay is the internationally acclaimed author of the novels A Hundred Small Lessons, The Body in the Clouds, and The Railwayman’s Wife, which was honored with the Colin Roderick Award by the Foundation for Australian Literary Studies and longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, the most prestigious literary prize in Australia, among numerous other accolades. She has also written four nonfiction books. She lives in Brisbane, Australia.
“Exquisite…a rich, meditative novel that explores the connectivity of people living in the same geographical space across the distance of time. Through a series of satisfying, recurrent metaphors, Hay weaves her characters’ stories closer, offering an allegory for the commonality of human experience. Her deft touch means that these connections are never forced; rather, they give the feel of a memory, a half-waking dream…Hay’s elegant prose draws warm and textured portraits…from the first aboriginal inhabitants through the early British settlers and into the tumult of modern urban life. Within that sprawl, Hay discovers beauty.”
– New York Times Book Review
“Throughout, there’s a slippery feeling that time and place are not fixed in linear fashion but rather stacked from the top down—future on top of present on top of past—and the men can see down to the past and up to the future through tiny gaps in the clouds… This skillfully written tale weaves back and forth between characters, revealing a hint of the connection of humanity through the ages…A finely woven tapestry of poetic language and subtle symbols, intertwined dreams, hopes, and visions, and a sense of seeing through cracks—perhaps to an eternity where time is no more and all is known. Thought-provoking.”
“An unusually imaginative story.”
– Houston Chronicle
“Hay’s writing is profusely poetical and lavishly descriptive, and her pace floats along leisurely.”
– Library Journal
Praise for The Railwayman's Wife:
“Exquisitely written and deeply felt, The Railwayman's Wife is limpid and deep as the rock pools on the coastline beloved by this book’s characters and just as teeming with vibrant life. Ashley Hay’s novel of love and pain is a true book of wonders.”
– Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Secret Chord
“The Railwayman’s Wife is a fine evocation of place and time - a vivid love letter to a particular corner of post-war Australia. Ashley Hay writes with subtle insight about grief and loss and the heart's voyage through and beyond them. It's a lovely, absorbing, and uplifting read.”
– M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans
“The Railwayman's Wife is a beautifully attentive study of what comes after - after a funeral, after a war - and Ashley Hay is a wise and gracious guide through this fascinating territory. This is a book in which grief and love are so entwined they make a new and wonderful kind of sense.”
– Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest
“Ashley Hay weaves a moving tale of love, loss and hope.”
– Us Weekly
“Hay’s poetic gifts are evident in her descriptions of the wild coastal landscape and Roy’s measured verse. This poignant, elegant novel delves into the depth of tragedy, the shaky ground of recovery, and the bittersweet memories of lost love.”
“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.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Significant moments are described with astoundingly solid writing, and the coastal setting is beautifully depicted. Previously released to critical acclaim in Australia in 2013 and a 2014 winner of the Colin Roderick Prize in the UK, this second novel from Hay is the kind of slow, ruminative, evocative story that will appeal to devotees of literary fiction.”
– Library Journal
“After wow-ing European audiences, this book is coming stateside to dazzle you…Beautifully written, and featuring some excellent passages about writing and reading itself, this book will have you feeling every emotion at once.”
“Hay has lovingly crafted a poignant, character-driven novel filled with heartache and hope, which is transferred to the reader through lyrical prose, poetic dialogue and stunning imagery.”
– RT Magazine
“A literary and literate gem of a book that leaves you with a set of emotions that I suspect last for a long, long time.”
– Psychology Today
“This thoughtful, elegant portrait of lives turned inside out and finding the way forward from despair is sure to find a place in the hearts of its audience.”
– Shelf Awareness
“The Railwayman’s Wife uses beautiful prose and empathetic characters to tell a story of both hope and heartache.”
"This story is a study in emotion: grief, hope, love, redemption, and yearning. The prose is so elegant that it seems to glide.”
– Historical Novel Society
"Hay delicately threads together the lives of a widowed librarian, an unproductive poet, and a guilt-ridden doctor as they grapple with life after loss in post-World War II Thirroul, a small seaside village in New South Wales, Australia."
– Coastal Living
"[Hay's] prose style is simple yet vivid, and her insights on bereavement and moving forward are wise. Perhaps most impressive is her portrayal of the human predicament, the notion that one's heartfelt hopes are sometimes crushed against the rocks of reality."
– Star Tribune
“Hay handles the delicate progress of Ani's return to the world with sympathy and toughness; she is an author in whom intellectual scope and empathetic imagination are not separate activities but two sides of the same coin…. recalls the sour-sweet best of Michael Ondaatje's fiction. Another author, Ford Madox Ford, began his The Good Soldier by claiming, 'This is the saddest story.' It isn't. That title rightly belongs to The Railwayman's Wife."
– The Australian
“in this poignant rumination on life, death, memory, dreaming and the anxious spaces in between, it's hard to find fault with a single one of Hay's words, which speak to and provoke our deepest desires for literature to transform and heal us.”
– Sydney Morning Herald
"A scintillating and accomplished debut novel…Hay’s structures and her characters are illuminated by an incandescent intelligence and a rare sensibility.'
– The Australian Book Review
"A gorgeous, Faberge egg of a book, enamelled with literary resonances and rhyming symbols, which we will still be reading decades from now."
– The Weekend Australian
Praise for A Hundred Small Lessons:
“A book that overflows with gratitude for the hard, beautiful things of this world, and for the saving worlds of our imagination.”
– Helen Garner, award-winning author of Everywhere I Look
“A Hundred Small Lessons explores notions of home, family, identity, creativity, aging and our relationship with cities and the natural world.…Hay explores the ways in which we inhabit spaces: building homes and filling them with our possessions, dreams, regrets, fears and secrets. This graceful novel, with its unflinching approach to reality and its gentle undercurrents of sadness, nostalgia and hope, is a highly recommended read for fans of literary fiction.”
– Books + Publishing (Australia), five stars
“Hay renders the small details of an undramatic, decent life with tenderness that is touching and compelling…a measured piece of writing that works carefully to create pensive and evocative images of time and place and people.”
– The Australian
“Hay’s intelligent scrutiny of the human psyche gives depth to this neatly constructed story.”
– Sydney Morning Herald (Australia)
“Deeply affecting…Hay’s unique novel glides like a swan and only after the last page do you realize how deeply you’ve dived.”
– Country Style (Australia)
“Hay creates a compelling story, charting what it is to be human.”
– Mindfood (Australia)
“Hay explores with considerable empathy and insight the everyday lives of two very different generations…With a lovely attention to the detail of things and feelings, Hay enlists our concern for her characters and an appreciation for the revealing echoes they call up in our own lives.”
Get our latest book recommendations, author news, and competitions right to your inbox.
More books from this author: Ashley Hay
Thank you for signing up, fellow book lover!
Tell us what you like, so we can send you books you'll love.