About the Book
Mr Baxter is ninety-four years old when he falls down his staircase and 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. Indeed, Melrose Gardens is his worst nightmare. Then he meets Gregory.
Greg is just nineteen years old, but he has already suffered a loss so heavy that he is in danger of giving up on life before he even gets going. Seeing the boy’s pain, Baxter decides to take him under his wing.
Together they embark on a spirited journey to the war graves of Northern France, for Baxter to pay tribute to the love of his life; the man he waved off to fight in a senseless war; the man who never returned.
As Baxter shares his memories, Gregory 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 every last second we have while we’re here.
Mr Baxter is 94 years old and not happy to be a resident at Melrose Gardens Retirement Home. Greg is 19 and ends up working at the care home where he meets Baxter. Initially it doesn’t seem possible that a directionless young adult and forthright Baxter would get along but somehow they forge a connection.
I started reading this after lunch one day and I literally didn’t put it down until I’d turned the last page later on that afternoon. I was pulled into this story from the opening pages and I just had to keep reading.
I had a soft spot for Baxter from the start, he gives off a grumpy vibe but you can see very quickly that he has a great sense of humour. There is a moment very early on in the book when Baxter has a chat with his doctor about music and I properly laughed when I read it. My husband loves jazz and I can’t bear it so me and Baxter were like kindred spirits from the off!
‘”Are you fond of music?”
“I like jazz.”
“So that’s a no then […] If you can’t carry a tune then learn a f*cking trade”.
Baxter also has a real caring side for those who are struggling, he doesn’t show it all the time but you can sense it’s there. Greg made my heart ache; it’s so awful to read about a young person who is carrying so much on his shoulders. He has been through the most awful loss and he has no one in his life that he can talk to. His dad has shut down and won’t face up to things and so Greg is on his own with his grief. He ends up working at the retirement home and Baxter immediately realises that Greg isn’t just a sullen young man but is actually in such pain and torment.
‘[Greg] felt like there was a lifetime of conversation inside him, somewhere, and hoped that one day he’d find a companion who would encourage it to emerge.’
The friendship that grows between Greg and Baxter is heartwarming, I absolutely adored seeing them getting to know each other. It’s never mawkish despite the heartbreak that each of them has gone through – Matthew Crow hits the most perfect tone in the way these two men get to know more about each other. Baxter begins to bring Greg out of himself a bit more, and Greg seems to brighten Baxter’s days without even realising he’s doing it. Alongside this present day story we get to hear Baxter’s back story and I was enthralled. He found the great love of his life as quite a young man and for a while they lived in a cocoon in Baxter’s house. They were hopeful that one day they could go out as a couple but for that moment in time they were just so happy to have found each other. But then the war broke out and Thomas is called up. I shed tears when this happened, and again when he actually left. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like to see your soul mate go off to war not knowing if you’ll ever get them back home with you again.
“When she passed […] it blew through me like a f*cking hurricane. Nobody understood, you see. Nobody had lost what I had lost. We’d all suffered, granted. But grief, it’s a different shape for everyone”.
“It’s a different size, too.”
Over the course of the novel we learn more about Greg’s story and, for me, it just began to feel like Greg and Baxter were destined to meet. Their paths crossed at a time when they both had a growing need for closure, for someone who would make time for them and they forged a beautiful friendship. I loved how Baxter helped Greg gain a bit more confidence to make friends with people around the home. It was wonderful to meet Winnifred – I want to be her when I grow up!
I almost didn’t sign up to read this book for the blog tour because I find it really upsetting to read about men lost in the war. My late Nan lost her first husband in the Second World War and finding the ‘missing presumed dead’ telegram about him after she died was one of the most heartbreaking moments in my life. It still makes me want to weep when I think about it all these years later. I’m so glad that I did pick Baxter’s Requiem up though because the tears I cried whilst reading it were cathartic and healing, and ultimately this book has a lot of joy radiating from its pages too.
I read this book a few weeks ago now and I still keep thinking about Baxter and Greg. They are two wonderful characters that I won’t ever forget! Baxter’s Requiem is one of those really special books that steal a piece of your heart, it’s now firmly on my favourites shelf and it will be a book that I re-read. It’s beautiful and moving, heartbreaking but also life-affirming… there just aren’t enough superlatives to do it justice, I just urge you to please go read it!
Many thanks to Anne of Random Things Tours and Corsair for my copy of this book and the invitation to be on the blog tour. All thoughts are my own.
Baxter’s Requiem is out now and available here.
About the Author
Matthew was born and raised in Newcastle and began freelancing for newspapers and magazines whilst still at school, writing about the arts and pop culture.
He has written four novels, Ashes and My Dearest Jonah – the second of which was nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize for Literature – and one book for young adults, In Bloom, which was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and the North East Teen Book Award, and listed in the Telegraph’s Best YA of 2014 List.
His fourth book, Another Place, is also be for young adults and was published by Atom in August 2017.
Matthew’s most recent novel, Baxter’s Requiem, was published in September 2018 by Corsair.
You can follow the rest of the tour at the following blogs: