An old love, a recent tragedy, and such wonderful characters that I would love to meet, this is a book that made me laugh and cry. Baxter’s determination, his mischief and back story is a tremendous achievement in a relatively short read. The other characters; the distraught Greg, the cheeky Ramila, the sensible Suzanne all combine to give an alternative lifestyle for Baxter, but his memories and the wonderful Winnie keep his determination going. Baxter is an unstoppable force, yet there is such tenderness and love within this book for the lost and also the new, such a determination to give a new life to a young man who has shut down. I really revelled in this book, with such a powerful message of life and purpose. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book with its life affirming message.
The book opens in Melrose Gardens Retirement Home, with Baxter receiving bad news from a doctor, which he takes with what is his evidently usual philosophical reactions. He tells the nervous young doctor “You don’t always have to take it so seriously. Ask me something normal.Treat me like a human being.There’s a roomful of clues and conversational prompts”. When he returns to his house, his old friend, with Greg and Ramila, he realises that he must act swiftly to say farewell to the person that he had found love with so long ago. He has also realised that Greg has shut down from all his former bright promise, for reasons that only gradually emerge. As he lays his plans, he meets up with old friends and the one person who can remember his great love, who herself is a memorable and very funny character. As memories flood in, the humour and love of a time past become vividly realised. Meanwhile Greg’s raw pain emerges as he tries to cope with a life that has hurt him so badly, as he tries desperately to connect with his father. Baxter’s resilience and dry humour punctuates and motivates this book, yet it conceals deep loves and a deep sense of what must be done.
In short, this is a tremendous book and I found it a real treat to read. It is a tremendously funny book, yet the underlying pain of loss is always present. I really enjoyed the humour, the characters, and the plot which resolves so much. It covers the mess of the First World War, with its lack of direction for many soldiers and its sharply defined prejudices. It also protests against the current pressure to conform to expectations for the young at school and the old in institutions; it requires two amazing women to overturn the rules at school and and in a home, with great and lasting effect. While I was saddened by the waste of life as a result of prejudice, I was enthused by its message, that life can be wonderful and needs to grasped. Hope, humour and love can overcome loss, which is the message of this novel. Just read this book, it is wonderful.
Today we braved April showers and hail storms to visit Charlecote Park, a National Trust property. It is an accessible house (hurray!) with a marvellous collection of paintings and furniture and an incredible family history. We saw deer and a rather good second – hand bookshop, and I got some inspiration for my dissertation. Now I just need some time to do it!