Mr Baxter is ninety-four years old when he falls down his staircase and grudgingly finds himself resident at Melrose Gardens Retirement Home.
Baxter is many things – raconteur, retired music teacher, rabble-rouser, bon viveur – but ‘good patient’ he is not. He had every intention of living out his twilight years with wine, music and revelry; not tea, telly and Tramadol. Indeed, Melrose Gardens is his worst nightmare – until he meets Gregory.
At only nineteen years of age, Greg had suffered a loss so heavy that he is in danger of giving up on life before he even gets going.
Determined to save the boy, Baxter decides to enlist his help on a mission to pay tribute to his long-lost love, Thomas: the man he waved off to fight in a senseless war; the man who never returned. The best man he ever knew.
With Gregory in tow Baxter sets out on a spirited escape from Melrose, bound for the war graves of northern France. As Baxter shares his memories, the boy starts to see that life need not be a matter of mere endurance; that the world is huge and beautiful; that kindness is strength; and that the only way to honour the dead is to live.
A tender and endearing book, primarily about Baxter and Greg, Baxter being a cantankerous old man reaching the end of his life, while Greg is a broken and lost soul trying to survive following a devastating loss. But I think this is also about the relationships of men, father and son, friendships, lovers and enemies.
Spanning Baxter’s lifetime he looks back on his life, his one true love; Thomas and the loss of him and he recognises in Greg someone who has also lost and he uses his wisdom to help Greg, to move him on a bit. Embarking on a road trip (by train) this is one last journey for Baxter, closure for him but by taking Greg on this journey he teaches him about survival and recovery and the ability to live a full life.
The story is sweet and touching and will appeal to fans of quirky but wonderful characers, I’m thinking of Ove and Eleanor Oliphant, but there are many more and you know the ones! Those stories about relationships that touch something deep inside with the tender moments as friendships build and heal.
Funny moments are provided by Baxter’s general rejection of any rules and his supporting cast, including long time friend Winnifred, complete with kamikaze mobility scooter. Ramila, nominally a member of staff at the Melrose Gardens Retirement Home but as the boss’s daughter she is a law unto her self and forms a soft spot for Greg and Baxter. Finally Suzanne, trying to run the retirement home and manage this motley crue but with a heart of gold beneath a hard shell she completes this warm tale.
Not without sadness mind, the loss of Thomas for Baxter is heartbreaking and as that story unfolds, against a backdrop of World War II I defy anyone not to shed a tears, for these glorious characters and a tale of forbidden love.
About the Author
Matthew Crow was born and raised in Newcastle. having worked as a freelance journalist since his teens he has contributed to a number of publications including the Independent on Sunday and the Observer. He has written for adults and YA. His book My Dearest Jonah, was nominate for the Dylan Thomas Prize.