Archive | 10:18 AM

Book Review: The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison (3/5)

10 Feb

This isn’t the typical book for our book club. The group tends to skew younger for a library book club and we tend to read more ‘edgy’ novels and less conventional book club selections. So I was surprised when we were handed a book that reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It didn’t seem like a good pick for our group and I’m curious to see what people think of it at the meeting tonight.

The Extra Ordinary Life of Frank Derrick, Age 81 by J.B. Morrison

Summary from Goodreads:

Frank Derrick is eighty-one. And he’s just been run over by a milk float. It was tough enough to fill the hours of the day when he was active. But now he’s broken his arm and fractured his foot, it looks set to be a very long few weeks ahead. Frank lives with his cat Bill (which made more sense before Ben died) in the typically British town of Fullwind-on-Sea. The Villages in Bloom competition is the topic of conversation amongst his neighbours but Frank has no interest in that. He watches DVDs, spends his money frivolously at the local charity shop and desperately tries to avoid the cold callers continuously knocking on his door. Emailing his daughter in America on the library computer and visiting his friend Smelly John used to be the highlights of his week. Now he can’t even do that. Then a breath of fresh air comes into his life in the form of Kelly Christmas, home help. With her little blue car and appalling parking, her cheerful resilience and ability to laugh at his jokes, Kelly changes Frank’s life. She reminds him that there is a big wide-world beyond the four walls of his flat and that adventures, however small, come to people of all ages. Frank and Kelly’s story is sad and funny, moving, familiar, uplifting. It is a small and perfect look at a life neither remarkable nor disastrous, but completely extraordinary nonetheless.

This book never took off for me. I kept waiting for a story to start and it didn’t feel like one did. Frank is trying to get a semblance of his life back together after his accident and Kelly helps him find a way to do that but it seemed to me she made him take steps back before he moved forward. For a lot of the novel, he seemed to be slipping. He was selling his possessions and buying things he didn’t need. He was eating badly and was struggling to care for himself. It reminded me of my grandpa before he died. I couldn’t see any joy or way forward in his story. At the very end, he has a breakthrough but by then I’d given up on this book as being a sad story about a man’s descent into a trap of old age that he wasn’t going to climb out of.

Frank seemed real to me most of the time. I liked his internal dialogue. When he talked about the old ladies on the bus and how he thought they were always laughing at him, I related to that. I’ve for sure felt that way several times as well. I found it relatable when he couldn’t stop buying things and bringing them home even when he was selling things to make money. It seemed like a very real compulsion. We don’t get a lot of detail about the other characters to see if they feel as real as Frank but having a well constructed main character like him was a solid basis for the book.

Frank was my favorite character. I was tempted to say Kelly for a second, but we don’t know much about her and I think I only liked her because Frank liked her. Frank was easy to like, even when I pitied him. I wanted to help him because he was a nice man and really just wanted to be loved. I’m sure I might sympathize with him later in life, but I still liked him.

I have little in common with Frank and that was part of the reason I wasn’t as invested in his story. He’s very different from me and at a very different point in his life. My parents are only just retiring and my grandparents have always lived far away. Honestly, I’m more like Frank’s daughter than Frank. It was hard for me to relate to someone retired and with limited mobility like Frank had after his accident.

J.B. Morrison
Image via Goodreads

I was most interested in Frank’s trips to the pawnshop. I thought he was being so creative to try and make enough money to spend just one more week with Kelly. He seemed a bit ambitious to keep returning after his first trip didn’t go so well but I still admired his tenacity. I wished the things he held in such high regard had brought him more money, but I also think it’s the things we think are most valuable that others won’t see the value in.

The trip to the ocean struck me as odd. I found it odd Kelly would choose to spend her holiday with a patient and would treat him to extravagances like she did. Granted, they probably cost her very little overall but they meant so much to Frank. It was wonderful that she did that, but I thought it was unrealistic.

I’ve read more than one book lately about the elderly and how our society pushes them to the fringes of our thoughts and tends to forget them. This is the story of a man who was pushed to the outside. His daughter is distant, his neighbors unhelpful, and the one friend he has is now gone. He’s forced to face disability very quickly and I think Kelly paying attention to him when he felt so ignored was why he formed such an attachment to her. I’ve been trying to pay more attention to my grandmas but with large distances between us, it’s very hard.

Writer’s Takeaway: With a character-driven novel, it can be hard to have a strong storyline and I think this story was lacking. The story of how Frank became independent again and found his confidence was good in theory, but it was a bit slow-paced and it was hard to figure out where the story was heading for a while. It took me until the very end to see the path Frank was taking and I think it would have benefited from some clarification earlier on.

Overall, not a great book but a good example of wit and internal dialogue. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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