Baxter’s Requiem piqued my interest with its cross-generational friendship and an elderly hero unwilling to give up on life just yet. I’m quite partial to both of these in fiction as much as in real life.
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 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 has 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.
I have to admit that it took me a little while to warm to Baxter, simply because while he is chafing away at being in the home, he is loud and rambunctious. I liked him a whole lot better, as I learned more of his backstory, which I found incredibly touching. I admired his attitude towards life and that he wanted to use what was left of his to help others. He is a remarkable character.
Greg is much easier to empathise with from the outset. He’s starting a new job, has a difficult home life with little hope of support or even sympathy there, and no friends to speak of since having left school. He’s withdrawn from the world but despite this, he’s funny, observant, resourceful, and clearly not stupid.
Among the supporting characters, special mentions go to Winnifred who is a wild and wonderful woman, especially on her mobility scooter; the home receptionist Ramila who chivvies Greg into a friendship before he realises it; and Susanne, the manager of the home, who has a bark worse than her bite but still sees her charges and staff as people first. She’s surprisingly good at reading people and allowing them the space or time they need. Even Teddy, Greg’s dad, has a late rally and leaves room for hope that there’s a more positive future in store for father and son.
Peggy, Michael and Thomas all exert a powerful influence over Baxter’s Requiem despite already being dead by the time the book opens. From the tenderness with which Matthew Crow tells their stories, I couldn’t help but also mourn their loss while starting to understand what they meant to those left behind. Reading was a bittersweet experience and Thomas’ story especially broke me. Which left me with nothing but anger and pure venom directed at two minor characters and what they represented at this time.
Greg and Mr Baxter’s friendship may be the one that’s at the heart of this story but, by the end of Matthew Crow’s book, there are others in evidence. And it’s those different age groups socialising, interacting and even working together in Baxter’s Requiem that ultimately left me feeling optimistic. Hopeful that what was once hidden and feared, even persecuted, would now be openly celebrated and free.
Told with genuine warmth and humour, Baxter’s Requiem is a moving story of friendship, family (be it biological or nurtured), loss, love and, above all, kindness which packs a real emotional punch.
Baxter’s Requiem by Matthew Crow is published by Corsair, an imprint of Little, Brown. It is published today as an ebook and in back. You can buy it from Amazon UK or through Hive which supports your local independent bookshop instead. 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 nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.