Some books are painfully clever. They are dense with ideas, and their dialogue is so witty as to be almost undecipherable – even the characters are cleverer than the average reader.
Then there are the books that are deceptively clever, with complex themes presented in a way that appears simple and is accessible to any reader, and above all, enjoyable.
Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions is firmly in the latter category. In her appearance at this month’s Clunes Booktown Festival, Wilson said she wanted Extinctions to be a book that readers enjoyed, but also that made them think more deeply if they chose to.
And that is exactly what it is. I read Extinctions in a rush, seeing I had booked to hear Wilson talk, but hadn’t started reading until just beforehand.
I enjoyed the story of Frederick, who has just moved into a retirement village, a label which he disdains. I adored the neighbour who insists on entering his life, and was curious about his adopted daughter.
I liked the way I was torn between feeling some affection for Frederick, such was his naivety, or resenting the cruelty towards his wife and children that he so deftly justified.
However, when I listened to Wilson I realised how much more there was to this book. There was the theme of belonging and likeness, captured so well in Frederick’s wife, Martha’s concerns about her daughter’s adoption.
There was the sexism of the era in which the book was set, in the late 1970s, and the ways in which women struggled against their husbands’ self-centeredness.
Along with this sexism, Wilson also explored issues of racism, ageism and disability, questioning whether people can change.
Whether the reader wishes to be entertained, or to consider the issues Wilson touches upon more deeply, Extinctions is a rare pleasure.