Aren’t publishing trends funny? There is a tide of books coming in off the back of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry at the moment (including the delightful Last Bus to Coffeeville). This one, published by Pan Macmillan, runs in a similar vein, adding to the dialogue we are having at the moment in literature of what it really means to grow old in places like England.
I think this discussion about the truth of aging is a really important one, and something I feel The Extra Ordinary Life does extra ordinarily well. The other aspect where it truly flourishes is the comedic tone. Frank is, you guessed it, 81 years old, and has recently been run over by a milk float. I mean, no-one needs that, but when you’re 81 it can be a real buzz kill. Frank takes it all in his stride though – he is a fantastic character, full of life and fun. That’s from his James Stewart impersonations to his conversations with his only companion, Bill the cat.
His daughter, from the other side of the Atlantic, decides he will need some assistance for a few weeks after Attack of the Milk Float, so hires some ‘help’ to come in once a week. Frank’s life has previously been filled with feeding Bill, buying porcelain giraffes from the charity shop, and watching DVDs he has seen countless times before. So when Kelly Christmas walks into his life for an hour every Monday, things start looking up. He suddenly has something to look forward to every week. What ensues from this is hilarious and ever so slightly heart-breaking.
What I really admired about the novel was how Morrison managed to convey the sheer emptiness of the day for Frank – or for any retired person who no longer has someone to share their lives with. Frank is awoken every day by the planes flying overhead in the early morning and then struggles to fill the time before crawling into bed again. The author narrates this to us with such charm that it is almost hard to become sad about. Morrison admits in a question and answer in the back of the book that a lot of what inspired Frank, in his world of cold-callers and idiots trying to mend his roof, was what he experiences with his own Mum and I think that really shines through.
There is little to criticise – having not read Harold Fry, I am not in a position to compare, but if you want a novel with some laugh out loud lines and a truly endearing central character, look no further.
I would like to thank Natasha Harding for providing this much appreciated copy.