Extinctions by Australian author Josephine Wilson won Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2017.
The main character, Professor Frederic Lothian is a widower in his late sixties who recently moved into a retirement village in Perth, Australia. Before retiring from work Fred was an engineer who specialised in concrete structures. When the story started Fred was living a reclusive life, swamped by the modernist furniture and clutter from his former home which he was unable to part with, dodging personal relationships and avoiding thinking about his son and daughter, both of whom he has abandoned in different ways.
I struggled with Fred’s coldness during the first half of the book. Fred had lived a lifetime of not getting emotionally involved with other people, not interfering, not going out of his way to assist or understand other people and never giving anything of himself to others when an accident which he could have prevented by interceding occurred and he met his next-door-neighbour, Jan, who forced him to understand that his behaviour was selfish, particularly towards his own family members.
Fred’s daughter Caroline lives in London where she was working to create a museum exhibition of extinct species. Caroline, who is Aboriginal, was adopted by Fred and his wife Martha. Caroline struggles with her father’s lack of accountability, particularly after her mother’s death when she was left to manage the care of her brother Callum alone. Callum had been in a care facility for many years after suffering brain-damage in an accident which Fred contributed to.
By the second half of the book, I was a lot more interested in Fred and the other character’s stories. Bit by bit, because of Jan forcing Fred to discuss and take ownership of his life, we learn why Fred is the way he is, the ins and outs of his marriage with Martha, and what Caroline makes of it all.
The timeline of the story is ridiculous, in that Fred changed from being a selfish old git to becoming the man he should always have been after 24 hours of emotionally prodding by Jan, not to mention that all of the loose ends were neatly tied up by the end of the book. I didn’t feel a strong sense of ‘Australian-ness’ with this story either, although the boo does cover some very big Australian issues. However, I did enjoy Extinctions overall and thought the writing was very good. I also like the idea that it is never to late to be a better person.
**Spoiler alert** If anyone else has read this, please let me know if you think that Ralph was Callum’s father.