Extinctions – Josephine Wilson

Worthy. That’s the best description of Wilson’s novel. It was a worthy winner of last year’s Miles Franklin. It will never be looked back on as a great winner, but there’s no doubt of the author’s worthiness in turning a collection of words worth our while perusing. This tome, unlike many other winners of the prestigious award, had not been purchased but passed on to me. The words my writerly daughter used were, ‘You’ll enjoy this.’ She knows. I did.

There is a worthy trend in British film making at the moment, with many of their great thesps getting on in years, to produce for us in the older demographic. Usually they are fairly mushy, but nonetheless enjoyable for that. They are tales about falling in love again when that was felt something for earlier decades. Cite the ‘Marigold Hotel’ duo and the more recent ‘Hampstead’. There’s numerous others. Also, some ponder on the meaning of love itself at our age. ‘Extinctions’, the novel, constantly reminded me of, not an English speaking movie, but the Swedish gem, ‘A Man Called Ove’. A curmudgeon is softened by a female influence.

And Fred, in ‘Extinctions’, has Jan for this – maybe. A tragic event has bought them together, even though they’re next door neighbours. Fred’s life has been marked by misfortune – the passing of his wife; the accident causing his son to be in high-dependency care. As a result Fred has retreated to a retirement village, pulling his past behind him to wait out his own extinction. He is going to stew in his own juices, but Jan attempts to jolt him into action, to get him into gear. It is, without giving anything away, a transformed Fred we have at novel’s end – but transformed in a positive way?

Frank’s previous work was high in academia, in the field of concrete no less. Oh dear, we might all sigh, but there’s more to cement than meets the eye. Design fascinates the old fellow and in the past he has collected significant examples, some of which he cannot bear to part with as he downsizes. He drags them into his gated community.

Jan also has a tale to tell about her life. She can see what Fred could be and doesn’t give him an inch. His daughter has a back story as well. She’s affected by her origins and has temporarily escaped to England.

No, there’s little lovey-doveyness to be had here like those Brit cinema offerings. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t light – and perhaps, just perhaps, a few second chances as well.

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