Midwinter Break

Midwinter Break

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. Gerr...

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Title:Midwinter Break
Author:Bernard MacLaverty
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Midwinter Break Reviews

  • Gumble's Yard

    This book is the story of a midwinter break taken in Amsterdam by a retired couple Gerry and Stella – Gerry and Stella are a Northern Irish Catholic Couple now living in Glasgow.

    The title however also conveyed to me the es

    This book is the story of a midwinter break taken in Amsterdam by a retired couple Gerry and Stella – Gerry and Stella are a Northern Irish Catholic Couple now living in Glasgow.

    The title however also conveyed to me the essence of the book – Stella is conscious that she is in the midwinter of her life (their only son living in Canada with his wife and son), contemplates a break in their relationship (driven by Gerry’s alcoholism) and a move to a religious community (due to her sense of an unfilled promise made to God years earlier).

    A beautifully understated novel and a brilliant portrait of a long relationship, a relationship forever changed by one event, but which is then worked out over years, a relationship of two people simultaneously so close that they sub-consciously anticipate each other’s wants, thoughts and needs and yet seemingly irreconcilably distant each with their own thoughts, desires and secrets.

  • Paromjit

    This is a profoundly moving and perceptive examination of the anatomy of a long marriage. Gerry and Stella Gilmore are retired, now living in Scotland, and facing the midwinter of their lives and their marriage. Gerry, once an architect, a mediocre one in his estimation, cannot get through a day without his drinking but his love for his wife is plain to see. Stella was a teacher, but her son and grandson live in Canada, leaving her feeling she needs more in her life and Gerry is not enough. They

    This is a profoundly moving and perceptive examination of the anatomy of a long marriage. Gerry and Stella Gilmore are retired, now living in Scotland, and facing the midwinter of their lives and their marriage. Gerry, once an architect, a mediocre one in his estimation, cannot get through a day without his drinking but his love for his wife is plain to see. Stella was a teacher, but her son and grandson live in Canada, leaving her feeling she needs more in her life and Gerry is not enough. They fly to Amsterdam, ostensibly for a long weekend, with Stella harbouring a hidden agenda. They explore the city both as a couple and separately. Stella feels the best of her was inspired by her Catholic faith, and she is in search of a more spiritual religiously guided life. On a previous visit to the city, she encountered the Dutch order of the Beguines. Gerry has never taken her religious faith seriously, and as she contemplates a different future, an honest look at each other and their marriage is inevitable.

    Gerry and Stella have an ease with each other that speaks of an intimate, close and long relationship, enjoying an active sex life with each other. Along with this are their incommunicative silences, secrets, deceptions and everyday frustrations with each other. The compromises that go into the reality of a marriage are beautifully captured. Both remember events from the Irish troubles, that Stella was personally affected by when she was pregnant. Her body has the physical and emotional scars from what happened to her. Her focus on a religiously devoted life is driven by a pledge Stella is haunted by and feels she failed to honour. This becomes clear as Stella becomes aware that the future she is planning may be out of her reach. What is to become of her? What choices will Stella make? Will their marriage survive?

    The story takes place over the 4 days of the Amsterdam break. MacLaverty writes with depth and sensitivity about the strengths and frailties of a marriage entering its twilight years. His psychological understanding of his characters and relationships has a truly authentic feel and is what makes this book such a superb accomplishment. His approach is understated, this is not a novel with drama or fast pacing. If that is what you are looking for, you will be disappointed. A thought provoking and brilliant read. Many thanks to Random House Vintage for an ARC.

  • Dean

    Novels like "Midwinter Break" by MacLaverty are the reason because I've became an ardent and passionate reader!!!

    Gerry and Stella a couple for decades make a trip to Amsterdam and must confront the shadows and hurts lurking in the past....

    They must cope with the fact that events and decisions made deliberately in the past have not lost their shaping power at all.

    Gerry try to find solace with alcohol, and Stella search for meaning leads her to a devout religious life;

    but in the end they both find

    Novels like "Midwinter Break" by MacLaverty are the reason because I've became an ardent and passionate reader!!!

    Gerry and Stella a couple for decades make a trip to Amsterdam and must confront the shadows and hurts lurking in the past....

    They must cope with the fact that events and decisions made deliberately in the past have not lost their shaping power at all.

    Gerry try to find solace with alcohol, and Stella search for meaning leads her to a devout religious life;

    but in the end they both find themselves in a struggling involving their relationship and more than that, even the destiny of their souls...

    After having read "Midwinter Break" by MacLaverty, I must say that I have discovered a new favorite author of mine.

    Narrated with a full and rich description-power dealing with ordinary everyday items and concerns, MacLaverty leads the reader in a subtle way to deeper and higher meanings full of heavy and crushing emotions...

    Love and respect for each other, as also the uncovering and exposition of our human weaknesses are items masterfully dealt with in "Midwinter Break"!!

    Let me say frankly and honestly, that this novel although a quiet one, will not fail to left his deep traces in the hearts of the reader.

    Sensitive written, with insight in what it means to be humans and full saturated with an almost nostalgic and poetic flair...

    I really are so happy at the beginning of the year to have had such an amazing reading experience!!

    Full recommendation to all of you my friends, with five stars...

    Dean;D

  • Diane S ☔

    Stella and Gerry, married for forty years, in the retirement years of their life, one son, one grandson. They take a weekend trip, leaving Scotland, and heading to Amsterdam. Gerry thinks it is just for time away, change of pace, but Stella has other motives, a discontent in her life and a spiritual promise made during a time of heartbreaking distress. Gerry drinks too much, is often dismissive of her faith, and Stella wants there to be something more before her life ends.

    A quiet novel, a reflec

    Stella and Gerry, married for forty years, in the retirement years of their life, one son, one grandson. They take a weekend trip, leaving Scotland, and heading to Amsterdam. Gerry thinks it is just for time away, change of pace, but Stella has other motives, a discontent in her life and a spiritual promise made during a time of heartbreaking distress. Gerry drinks too much, is often dismissive of her faith, and Stella wants there to be something more before her life ends.

    A quiet novel, a reflective one as we are privy to the thoughts of both Gerry and Stella as they look back in time. Unresolved issues, misunderstandings, and where each see their lives and each other. Touching novel, maybe because I too will be married for 35 years, husband retired, more time behind us than before, I felt this book and the struggles of this pair. Hard to be married for a long time, without having something unresolved. The things that don't get said, present here in this novel, things Gerry doesn't say to Stella, and should. Her hopes for her life and what she needs from Gerry to continue their lives together.

    As they visit different parts of Amsterdam, eat at various places, they take stock of their true feelings. Beautiful, beautiful language.

    "The end of the daylight striking the glass obliquely created a glittering, grisaille effect. Like ground glass, a layer of dust activated by almost horizontal light transformed the window into Waterford crystal. No expense soared for the Irish pub of Amsterdam. The admission and exclusion of light."

    Wonderfully descriptive, and an elegant and honest look at a couple in their twilight years

    ARC from edelweiss..

  • Elyse

    Bernard MacLaverty is an Irish author - new to me. His writing is impeccable and intimate. He paints a clear portrait of a retired middle age married couple.

    However, although I appreciate the authors understanding of this relationship - which we observed up close and personal - I didn't actually enjoy the plot or the themes in this novel. My own personal beliefs are so very different from both Stella and Gerry - I didn't have much empathy for them.

    I've read many books about married couples- you

    Bernard MacLaverty is an Irish author - new to me. His writing is impeccable and intimate. He paints a clear portrait of a retired middle age married couple.

    However, although I appreciate the authors understanding of this relationship - which we observed up close and personal - I didn't actually enjoy the plot or the themes in this novel. My own personal beliefs are so very different from both Stella and Gerry - I didn't have much empathy for them.

    I've read many books about married couples- young couples, aging couples..etc. that I have related to. This is not one of them.

    Ambivalence between Gerry and Stella embody them as a couple. Neither one seems happy yet they are 'connected-at-the-hip' through years of habit and familiarity.

    They are both off in there own heads - having their secretive conversations with their own inner voice about one another. Their communication skills do not empower each other. The independent choices of comforts they each reach for were bleak and gloomy. In my opinion drinking and religion (both) - if obsessive -can disempower a relationship. Gerry liked to drink. Stella liked religion - Both of their passions were causing harm to their relationship.

    I felt the whole theme around religion and drinking was as as dreary, dark and cold as the rainy day in Amsterdam - when Gerry and Stella first arrived.

    Flashbacks of a shocking-frightening-painful experience from years ago explains the troubles that show up in this marriage. The characters are believable, human, with faults and strengths......

    There is love, loss, and resilience......but I found much of the story dreadful! (Just personal taste- but please note: I do think it's beautifully written)

    3.5 stars for excellent writing- great descriptions- a sincere issue this couple needed to grapple with (although I HATED THE CHOICES MYSELF - AS I PERSONALLY DON'T VALUE RELIGION OR DRINKING IN THE WAY THIS COUPLE DID) ......

    A favorite Plus for me: I enjoyed walking through the galleries at the Rijksmuseum. There was a painting of "The Jewish Bride", by Rembrandt. Loved it!

    Thank You W.W. Norton & Company, Netgalley, and Bernard MacLaverty

  • Maureen

    Irish born Stella and Gerry are at a crossroads in their lives. Approaching their late sixties, they no longer share common interests - Gerry has his drinking, whilst Stella has her religion, a faith which has never deserted her, even at the lowest point in her life. They may not share common interests, but they still share intimacies that come from a long marriage, from knowing a person as well as you know yourself - the way Gerry still takes Stella's hand when crossing the road, or the habit t

    Irish born Stella and Gerry are at a crossroads in their lives. Approaching their late sixties, they no longer share common interests - Gerry has his drinking, whilst Stella has her religion, a faith which has never deserted her, even at the lowest point in her life. They may not share common interests, but they still share intimacies that come from a long marriage, from knowing a person as well as you know yourself - the way Gerry still takes Stella's hand when crossing the road, or the habit they have of sharing a kiss whenever they're in an elevator.

    As the story begins, Stella and Gerry are about to take a trip to Amsterdam, and it's told with an unflinching honesty that I found heartbreaking. The small silences that older marriages are comfortable enough to endure, become virtual non communication for them. Stella has her own agenda for this trip, which doesn't include her husband, while Gerry is happy to be left to his drinking ( secret or otherwise ).

    I liked the way the author gave snippets of information in the form of flashbacks, especially to the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland, and the dreadful day when Stella became one of the many statistics of the troubles, fortunately one who lived to tell the tale.

    The writing is simply exquisite, and captures so well the problems that come with age, not just in medical terms, but also how the passing years bring about a need to re-examine life and decisions. The author has told the story with love and compassion, and there was a particular scene that takes place in Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam, involving an earring, that makes me want to weep just thinking about it - so moving.

    Bernard MacLaverty's insight into love in later years is simply beautiful to witness. I want to gather his words into a great big hug and keep them close forever!

    *Thank you to Netgalley and Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for my ARC in exchange for an honest review*

  • Tony

    Gerry and Stella. They are an old married couple. Well, pensioners anyhow. They are Irish but then there was an incident and now they live in Glasgow. She was a teacher; he an architect. He is an alcoholic; she is devout. There is a fissure in their marriage. This is a story about a trip they take to Amsterdam. There will be flashbacks, teasingly and piecemeal, about the

    . We follow them, together and alone, among the Dutch, and it is ours to wonder if they will still be together at jour

    Gerry and Stella. They are an old married couple. Well, pensioners anyhow. They are Irish but then there was an incident and now they live in Glasgow. She was a teacher; he an architect. He is an alcoholic; she is devout. There is a fissure in their marriage. This is a story about a trip they take to Amsterdam. There will be flashbacks, teasingly and piecemeal, about the

    . We follow them, together and alone, among the Dutch, and it is ours to wonder if they will still be together at journey's end.

    On the flight over, Stella starts to tell, cryptically, why she wants to return to Amsterdam, where she last visited thirty years before. It's

    , Gerry says.

    The storyboarding of this book, the

    , may seem well-worn if not trite. As plots go, there are only two endings after all and maybe the reader will care if they are still a couple at the end. But maybe not.

    Never mind that. What carries the book is the language. There's the lilt, as when Stella says to Gerry in the airport:

    And dialogue that informs:

    is

    Gerry could glibly say:

    And from Stella:

    Yet, from I, the reader, I don't think that's an accurate judgment. Gerry seemed plenty kind and considerate to me. He just was very medicated. But he wasn't a bad man, and he was still palpably in love. And even when drunk he would buy little endearments.

    All of which got me thinking about husbands and wives; about living with disapproval; about a woman's needs.

    They are stranded in the airport when they hoped to return. Gerry, alone, starts to itemize the many things about Stella that he loves, a one-sided ledger. Stella hides in a ladies room stall where no one can hear her soliloquy:

    Yes, authors get channeled. Painters, too. Because you can't go to Amsterdam without a trip to a museum. And so Stella and Gerry stand together, in a crowd, and look:

    That's the storyboarding.

    she's

    And so can MacLaverty.

  • BlackOxford

    Like the Shakers, the Beguine movement was an attempt to provide some institutional respite for women in a world dominated by men, their narcissistic violence, and chronically inadequate women’s toilet facilities. The Begijnhof in Amsterdam is a vestige of this movement, which is probably no less necessary today than it was in medieval society.

    Gerry is a boor and a functional alcoholic. Stella is spiritually-minded and feels dis-valued. They have reached that st

    Like the Shakers, the Beguine movement was an attempt to provide some institutional respite for women in a world dominated by men, their narcissistic violence, and chronically inadequate women’s toilet facilities. The Begijnhof in Amsterdam is a vestige of this movement, which is probably no less necessary today than it was in medieval society.

    Gerry is a boor and a functional alcoholic. Stella is spiritually-minded and feels dis-valued. They have reached that stage in their marriage in which a gentle sniping and comforting ritual is as intimate as it gets. Both self-medicate to relieve disappointment with their lives: he with booze; she with an idea of escape into a refuge like the Beguines. Both want a different life. She is obviously the more competent at living.

    As an intact antique city, Amsterdam evokes not just the past but specific memories for Gerry and Stella.

    muses Gerry. Especially when they shared a trauma to which they both had to adapt. Is there anything more than that stale shared past to keep them together?

    On the other hand,

    Could there actually be more to look forward to in old age than this? Perhaps this is the implication of MacLaverty’s references to Faulkner’s

    - it’s all more than a little neurotic but somehow it works.

  • Fionnuala

    This love story about a retired couple is full of paradox. It appears quite light but it is surprisingly deep. It seems quite ordinary but its impact is extraordinary. It is funny and serious, a sad book and a happy book at the same time. A book mainly about Him yet predominantly about Her. A book about a shared life that is not really shared at all.

    I figured near the beginning that this Him & Her story wouldn't suit me. I wasn't interested in knowing that She says her prayers every night be

    This love story about a retired couple is full of paradox. It appears quite light but it is surprisingly deep. It seems quite ordinary but its impact is extraordinary. It is funny and serious, a sad book and a happy book at the same time. A book mainly about Him yet predominantly about Her. A book about a shared life that is not really shared at all.

    I figured near the beginning that this Him & Her story wouldn't suit me. I wasn't interested in knowing that She says her prayers every night before getting into bed with her hot water bottle, or that He, who never prays, sits up all night with his whiskey bottle instead. And even though I related slightly better to Him than to Her, I just couldn't get interested in the clues to unhappiness that were scattered everywhere. Clues such as artificial tears and cracks in masonry.

    But somewhere along the way, in the space between one line and the next, there was an inexplicable shift in my thinking. I still don't know how it happened, but by the end of the book, I had become completely involved in both the story and the writing, picking up on the author's clues eagerly, and even anticipating the words that would come next.

    As He chants a litany of praise to Her, for example, I was thinking,

    And then He says exactly that! It was as if the story was a crossword, and I had learned to figure it out.

    That was quite a miraculous turnaround, you might say sceptically. And I'm inclined to be sceptical about it myself - I've never had much time for the miraculous.

    But miracle-like happenings can insert themselves into the smallest spaces - think of the wonder of the midwinter sun slicing through the prehistoric underground chamber at Newgrange:

    Bernard McLaverty shines a light into the hidden spaces of a shared life and the result is quite wonderful.

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