Summary and book reviews of Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Midwinter Break

by Bernard MacLaverty

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster

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About this Book

Book Summary

For readers of Colm Toíbín, a moving portrait of a marriage in crisis and a couple's search for salvation.

Sixteen years on from his last novel, Bernard MacLaverty reminds us why he is regarded as one of the greatest living Irish writers. A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly from their home in Scotland to Amsterdam for a long weekend - a holiday to refresh the senses, to do some sightseeing, and generally to take stock of what remains of their lives. Their relationship seems safe, easy, familiar. But over the course of the four days we discover the deep uncertainties that exist between them.

Gerry, once an architect, is forgetful and set in his ways. Stella is tired of his lifestyle, worried about their marriage, and angry at his constant undermining of her religious faith. Things are not helped by memories that have begun to resurface of a troubled time in their native Ireland. As their midwinter break comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are - and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

MacLaverty is a master storyteller, and Midwinter Break is the essential MacLaverty novel: accurate, compassionate observation; effortlessly elegant writing; and a tender, intimate, heartrending story. Yet it is also a profound examination of human love and how we live together, a chamber piece of real resonance and power. Forty years after his first book, MacLaverty has written his masterpiece.

Excerpt
Midwinter Break

In the bathroom Stella was getting ready for bed. Gerry had left the shaving mirror at the magnifying face and she was examining her eyebrows. She licked the tip of her index finger and smoothed both of them. Then turned to her eyelids. She was sick of it all – the circles of cotton wool, the boiled and sterilised water in the saucer, the ointments, the waste bin full of cotton buds.

She said goodnight to Gerry and, on her way to the bed- room, passed their luggage in the hall. She switched on the late night news on the small radio beside her bed and got into her pyjamas. Quickly, because the bedroom air was cold. She saw no point in paying good money to heat a room all day for a minute's comfort last thing at night.

Before getting into bed she turned off the electric blanket. Now and again she'd fallen asleep with it still on. By the time Gerry came to bed she felt and looked awful. 'Like fried bacon,' was the way he described her.

...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may 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 ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Although it's told entirely in the third person, the novel moves fluidly back and forth between Stella and Gerry's perspectives, revealing how they perceive each other and hinting at a traumatic incident they experienced some four decades ago in Northern Ireland when Stella was pregnant with their son, Michael. MacLaverty sensitively explores how Gerry's drinking is bringing this marriage to a crisis point – another possible connotation of the title's "break."   (Reviewed by Rebecca Foster).

Full Review Members Only (694 words).

Media Reviews

Booklist

The novel's "happy" ending may not ring quite true, but on the whole this is a satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable, and even at times tongue-clucking read.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The fifth novel from Booker finalist MacLaverty is a quietly powerful elegy that chides two finely-wrought characters for not being capable of defining what they value most in life.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. A closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of a relationship and the fissures that threaten to wreck it.

Author Blurb Colm Tóibín, author of The Master and Brooklyn
Midwinter Break is a work of extraordinary emotional precision and sympathy, about coming to terms - to an honest reckoning - with love and the loss of love, with memory and pain. Full of scenes that are rendered with exquisite accuracy and care, allowing the most detailed physical descriptions to be placed against the possibility of a rich spiritual life, this is a novel of high ambition by an artist at the height of his powers.

Author Blurb Anne Enright, author of The Gathering and The Green Road
MacLaverty is a sweetly astute writer, a master of fine detail, compassing the quotidian, the intimate, and the sacred. <->Midwinter Break shows us how ordinary and immense love can be.

Author Blurb Richard Ford, author of The Sportswriter and Independence Day
MacLaverty's prose is deceptively simple and rewardingly straightforward and efficient. But what he writes about in this much anticipated novel - the resilience and stress lines of human love experienced over much time - is anything but simple and straightforward. It's the stuff of life.

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Beyond the Book

The Beguines

In Bernard MacLaverty's novel, Midwinter Break, Stella is intrigued by the Beguines, a lay Catholic sisterhood, and while she and her husband are on vacation in Amsterdam she meets with a spiritual director at the Begijnhof to investigate how she might become more involved.

Amsterdam's Begijnhof was founded in 1346. A hofje is a Dutch word for a courtyard with almshouses around it; hoven is the plural. The Begijnhof's complex of buildings includes two fifteenth-century churches later handed over to English and Scottish Protestants and a wooden house that is the oldest in Amsterdam. It is the city's only courtyard remaining from the Middle Ages; because it is still at the medieval street level, it sits about ...

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