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Extinctions by Josephine Wilson
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Extinctions

by Josephine Wilson

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4.5 Fred is in the latter part of his sixties, living in a senior village, and not very happy about that fact. His wife has died, and though we know he has two children, their is a rift between them, though the details are not yet apparent. Those are revealed as we read further. His thoughts are at times amusing, but he seems stuck on himself, or within himself. Quite pompous, and wants to keep away from most of the other residents, not get involved in this life he now finds himself within.

This is one of those questionsuiet books, that slowly works it's way into the heart of the reader. A family, missed opportunities, regrets, blindness, and an inability to see what went wrong. This changes as almost against his will he is bull dozered by the wonderful elderly lady who lives in the small house, next to his. Jan, is amazing, doesn't let Fred off with his excuses, but eventually has a most positive influence on his life. Quite amusing at times, sad too, when we find out more about his past.

Alienation, the sense of never belonging. Australia's indigenous people, and the harm done to them in the past, that carried into the present. Strong characters, strong writing. A story of moving forward, finding ones place, and finally forgiving oneself. A lovely, heartfelt story.

ARC from Edelweiss ( )
  Beamis12 | Dec 19, 2018 |
A grumpy old engineer reflects on his life
It is a complex tangle of relationships that examines life-changing events
I wasn't expecting the illustrations and was surprised and intrigued by them ( )
  devilish2 | Nov 10, 2018 |
I must admit that how the book would eventually develop I did not foresee after reading the first initial pages. The book central character is a retired academic engineer called Fred Lothian who is living in a retired village in Perth Western Australia. He is living a deliberately solitary life and is consumed by regrets at the life he has chosen and by the consequences of his past actions. His failure to confront the past which he must ultimately do to achieve some semblance of peace and self awareness is characterised by surrounding himself with clutter and the detritus of his former life that he is unable to discard. When Jan a friendly and loquacious neighbour unexpectedly enters the scene Fred must reassess and confront the secrets, half truths and lies that have consumed his previous life.

This is a story of redemption and coming to terms with the past and the extinction referred to in the title relates to the personal as well as the natural. I liked the way the narrative developed as like peeling an onion we gradually got to learn little by little the true events that shaped and perhaps in some ways traumatised Fred's life and accounted for his subsequent actions.

The interesting photographs and drawings that accompanied the text lead us to question the meaning of what extinction is and whether we are heading or retreating from this. The full range of emotions from humour to despair are encountered here and the book is beautifully written leaving the reader to question the meaning of existence. It is also an indictment of our treatment of lost cultures and nature and the consequences for members of Australia's Stolen Generations as personified by the character of Caroline.

Sometimes light and sometimes dark this is a novel that will stay in the mind for some time and the ending leaves many questions unanswered which perhaps due to the underlying subject matter is how it should be. I believe this is well worth a read and lends itself for much discussion for a book group. ( )
  George1st | Jul 5, 2018 |
The first few pages of Extinctions reminded me of A Man Called Ove — a cantankerous old man, Frederick Lothian, former concrete engineer, living in a retirement "village," too grumpy to tolerate his neighbors, shunning his daughter and son. His complaints about the life in the village are amusing and I thought the story would continue in the same vein as Ove , but the similarities ended quickly and the book took on a more serious tone.

A widowed neighbor in the village, Jan, insinuates herself into Frederick's life. Her life story that she reveals to Frederick is full of regrets and failings, which causes him to reconsider his own choices and behavior. He finds himself reluctantly revealing his past to Jan, and over the course of a couple of days, reinvents himself and changes his path.

This book won the Miles Franklin award in 2017, and there are discussions about the recent history of Australian Aborigines (of which my knowledge is sadly lacking). The book is interspersed with photos of architecture and engineering marvels that I found enhanced the story.

It’s the story of Frederick Lothian, but also of the life of his late wife, Martha, who had a vibrant life that he never knew about, and his daughter Caroline and son Callum, who faced battles he never understood or acknowledged. Extinctions revolves around the struggle to be a good parent, when to cling and when to let go, and the unwitting impact that the personal struggles of parents have on their children. The theme of extinctions —the metaphorical deaths of career, adoption, and marriage —runs throughout.
An insightful book with strong character development.

I vacillated between a 3 and 4 star rating for this one, but it is worth reading.

Many thanks to Edelweiss and Tin House Books (W W Norton) for this advance copy. ( )
  ErickaS | May 24, 2018 |
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Who is prepared to deprive life of a significant denouement?  
Jean Amery
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For Christopher Hill,
   who understands
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Out the window there was nothing that could be called poetry, nothing windswept, billowing, tossing or turning in a streaky sky, nothing other than a taut blue dome and the low drone of air conditioners.
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"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." --Back cover.… (more)

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