Reading guide for Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

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Midwinter Break

by Bernard MacLaverty

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty X
Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2017, 208 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2018, 208 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. What is the nature of faith in this novel? How does the notion of faith affect Gerry and Stella individually?
  2. Different kinds of barriers are a recurring theme in Midwinter Break. What are they, and how do they define the characters?
  3. Why do Gerry and Stella seem so amazed by the young people they see riding bicycles around Amsterdam? How does their individual and collective amazement become symbolic of their relationship?
  4. The alternating points of view allow the reader to empathize with both—or either—of the characters. Does this affect your perception of the characters and their treatment of each other during the holiday?
  5. Stella's religious beliefs drive much of her actions in Amsterdam. It isn't until late in the novel that she reveals the vow she made with God after she'd been shot, and that Catholicism is "her source of spiritual stem cells" (201). Did this come as a surprise? How do her beliefs affect their marriage?
  6. Touch is an integral part of Gerry and Stella's relationship, from kissing when alone in the lift to holding hands when crossing roads. How would you describe the nature of their marriage?
  7. Contention over religious beliefs is at the heart of Midwinter Break. It comes in the form of the unrest in Northern Ireland and in the marriage of the Gilmores. How do these parallel contentions factor into the deteriorating relationship between Gerry and Stella?
  8. At the end of the passage about their holiday to Ballycastle, we read that Stella "felt a joy of sorts when her fingers encountered the grains of sand in her [coat] pockets" (47). Is it possible, in years to come, that she'll feel a similar joy when she looks at the flowers that grow from the bulbs Gerry bought her in Amsterdam?
  9. Would you classify Gerry as an alcoholic? How is his stance on drinking—that one is either drunk or sober—problematic within the confines of his daily life? How has it affected his marriage?
  10. What do you think changes in Stella from the moment she leaves the earring on the mantelpiece at the Anne Frank house to the moment she sits in the café downstairs (127–28)? If her commiseration with Anne Frank is sincere, is she wrong to have left the token?
  11. Amsterdam seems to be full of discarded things: the block of ice in front of the hotel, flowers, old bicycles. What significance does this have on Stella's decision to leave or stay with Gerry?
  12. The day Stella is shot is remembered separately and in bits by both Gerry and Stella. How does this convey the story of the day? Does Gerry's distress and Stella's initial confusion about what had happened flesh out the experience?
  13. How do you feel about the end of the novel? Do you think the ending is hopeful? Will their marriage survive?


Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of W.W. Norton & Company. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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