He hated the word ‘retirement’, but not as much as he hated the word ‘village’, as if ageing made you a peasant or a fool. Herein lives the village idiot.
Professor Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, world expert on concrete and connoisseur of modernist design, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. His wife, Martha, is dead and his two adult children are lost to him in their own ways. Surrounded and obstructed by the debris of his life – objects he has collected over many years and tells himself he is keeping for his daughter – he is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen.
When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbour, Jan, together, he begins to realise the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime’s secrets and lies, and to comprehend his own shortcomings. Finally, Frederick Lothian has the opportunity to build something meaningful for the ones he loves.
Humorous, poignant and galvanising by turns, Extinctions is a novel about all kinds of extinction – natural, racial, national and personal – and what we can do to prevent them.
Extinctions is a beautifully written novel, characterised by total precision, as well as harmony, in word and thought. There are moments of profound and incisive emotional insight; these are presented in a style that avoids conscious 'literariness' in favour of a distinctive mix of humour, precision, and poetry. There is also a slightly more innovative narrative structure than is provided by the conventional realist novel - at one point the most knowing character comments, 'this is not that kind of story'. In terms of scope, the novel shifts smoothly from detail to panorama and back again; in terms of plot, there is enough drive in the story - wanting to know what will happen to the protagonist and his relationships - to keep us moving forward, even though he is not a person who would immediately evoke sympathy in most readers.
Extinctions is a densely poetic novel, which nonetheless manages to be extremely funny. As a portrait of an ageing man who is oblivious to his own frailties - principally, an almost pathological lack of awareness of the feelings of others - it also manages to be convincing in its depiction of his growing emotional maturity. At the same time, and with great subtlety, it entwines this suburban portrait with the larger theme of loss and destruction. Here, again, the book manages to surprise, being hopeful rather than bleak in its portrayal of the movement from myopia to knowledge.
Josephine Wilson is a Perth-based writer. Her writing career began in the area of performance. Her early works included The Geography of Haunted Places, with Erin Hefferon, and Customs. Her first novel was Cusp, (UWA Publishing, 2005). Josephine has lectured and taught in the tertiary sector. She is the busy parent of two children and works as a sessional staff member at Curtin University, where she teaches in the Humanities Honours Program, in Creative Writing and in Art and Design history. She completed her Masters of Philosophy at Queensland University and her PhD at UWA. Her novel Extinctions (UWA Publishing, 2016) was the winner of the inaugural Dorothy Hewett Prize.