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Midwinter Break: A Novel by Bernard…
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Midwinter Break: A Novel (2017)

by Bernard MacLaverty

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Gerry and Stella, a long-married retired couple, are off on a long weekend get-away to Amsterdam arranged by Stella. They are seemingly comfortable with each other as they approach old-age. But all is not as it seems. As the novel progresses, we learn that Stella had an ulterior motive in arranging the trip, and Gerry has a serious drinking problem about which he deceives only himself. The future of Stella and Gerry is not so secure as it we originally thought.

This novel has lovely characters, a moving story, and is a very real portrait of a long relationship. I liked it very much.

3 1/2 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 23, 2018 |
The mood of the book Midwinter Break and the content actually had the effect of making me question the longevity and even the purpose of marriage. Is it for companionship? Is it for love? What happens when that love loses through time its spontaneity, its freshness, and those little traits you once adored in your partner now appear as an irritation, an annoyance rather than a pleasure.

Gerry and Stella have embarked on a short break to the city of Amsterdam. This is a place that on the one hand is steeped in architectural magnificence and yet is more renowned even recognized for it's tolerance of escorts and prostitutes who brazenly advertise their trade in "rosse buurt" but better known to tourists as the red light district.

Gerry and Stella approaching the twilight of their years present to the readers as a loving couple comfortable in each other's company enjoying the good and bad of this colourful capital. As a retired architect Gerry has an immediate connection with Amsterdam and both can certainly appreciate the history and horror, the open wound that is The House of Anne Frank. Gerry possesses an alcoholic's desires and need to be constantly refueling with Ireland's most famous export; Jamesons blended whiskey. Stella has begrudgingly accepted this weakness viewing this as part of her husband's failings, but is this trip to Amsterdam Stella's opportunity to break free and discover within herself some inner peace and contentment before her body and mind succumbs to the ravages of time. A type of religious community, an order of women living "useful and happy independent lives"... appears to offer the redemption and release she craves, but would they accept her?

At the airport waiting for the flight home Stella tells Gerry that she does not wish to remain in their marriage any longer and on returning home to Scotland the flat will be sold. We learn of a traumatic incident that happened to Stella many years ago and her staunch support of the catholic church which Gerry views as..."Inflexible, narrow, capable of doing terrible damage by her adherence to rules and systems."..... Yet Stella views her relationship with the church as a support helping her cope in those dark times..."Mass is the most precious thing in my life. It's the storyboard of how to get through."..

This is a very powerful, soulful, intimate tale showing the effects and damage that a long term relationship can have on the parties involved. In some ways this book presents itself as a depressing read, yet cannot it also offer hope? Relationships, and love within a marriage change, people need to be aware that as we grow older the way that we interact with our surroundings and the people we love the most never remains or indeed cannot remain the same...."What was love but a lifetime of conversations. And silences. Knowing when to be silent. Above all, knowing when to laugh".... Midwinter Break is informative, enjoyable and highly recommended ( )
  runner56 | Mar 10, 2018 |
This quietly powerful novel, which was selected for this year's Wellcome Book Prize longlist, is set in present day Amsterdam and is centered on a retired Northern Irish couple who has moved to Glasgow and is on a long holiday weekend in the Dutch capital. Gerry was a modestly successful architect, who loves the bottle at least as much as his wife Stella, a former teacher and devoutly religious woman, who struggles against her husband's alcoholism and with a secret that has inspired and possessed her for over 40 years. She is no longer happy living with Gerry, and seeks to use her remaining years to serve God and to repay Him for the dire fate that He spared her from. The author's portrayal of the two characters, and the wonderful city of Amsterdam, is evocative and touching, and I found myself sympathizing with Stella's plight, becoming angry with Gerry's insensitivity and boorishness, yet rooting for the two of them to remain together despite their shortcomings. Midwinter Break is a superb examination of the destructive effects that alcoholism can have on an individual and an otherwise happy marriage, and it certainly deserves a place on this year's so far excellent longlist. ( )
  kidzdoc | Mar 9, 2018 |
A beautiful, understated, wrenching book about marriage, mortality, and getting through the life one is dealt.

Stella and Gerry are a long-married couple who take a vacation in Amsterdam over a long weekend in January. They are Northern Irish but long settled in Glasgow, having left during the troubles. They're both retired, Stella from teaching and Gerry from his architecture practice, and their only son is settled in Quebec with his wife and young son.

Stella is contemplating a break while Gerry is contemplating his next drink. Stella is a devout Catholic who wants to make her spiritual practice even more central in her life; Gerry is a non-believer who mocks devotion. They manage this tension, but barely. At least Stella barely manages it while Gerry blunders on, thinking he's hiding his drinking and avoiding being the worst kind of drunk.

The writing is superb. It's mostly subtle and unadorned, but the attention to quotidian details and the reader's view into the character's interior lives is masterfully done. MacLaverty doesn't do exposition, he just tells the characters' stories and the reader has to slowly figure out what is going on. As part of her decision-making process about her future, Stella goes to the Begijnhof to make inquiries of the inhabitants, but MacLaverty doesn't drop the name in the narrative. He lets Stella tell us what it is in the course of her activities and then her discussions with Gerry. Similarly, the Troubles play a key role in Stella and Gerry's life together but that role is revealed incrementally over the course of the story.

In the last third of the book the pace accelerates, and the writing becomes more "writerly," but with complete control. This was a difficult book for me to read in parts. It's one of the most accurate and painful depictions of a functioning alcoholic I've read, and it's a poignant portrayal of what is, on balance, a relatively successful marriage. On the one hand it's a sad story, but it's a sadness that could be the case for a lot of us, and it ends with both characters and their relationship in a more settled place than where they began.

It's fitting that Beckett is referenced, because the book is suffused with "I can't go on I'll go on." ( )
2 vote Sunita_p | Jan 5, 2018 |
This presentation was done in 9, 13-minute segments. The first thing I noticed was the excruciating detail... decisions on restaurants, putting on reading glasses, opening a window; I think this might have been a real slog for me had I been reading it. But I can see that it helped to set the tone of two people who were DEEPLY entrenched in banal routine. Where things started to really go astray for me was when it was revealed that Stella had this unfulfilled vow... NOW it's suddenly become imperative that she fulfill it? Why now, after all this time? And why so intensely, when she's been able to ignore it for so long? That sudden commitment conflicts with how easily she was dissuaded. Why THAT location? It's that one or bust, huh? Yeah, that's real commitment. How ridiculous! So many other ways she could fulfill that vow. Maybe I missed something that explains it in the book, but I can't imagine how that could be resolved. ( )
  Lit_Cat | Dec 9, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0393609626, Hardcover)

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

A retired couple, Gerry and Stella, travel to Amsterdam for a holiday to refresh the senses, do some sightseeing, and generally take stock of their lives. Their relationship seems easy, familiar―but over its course we discover the deep uncertainties between them.

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

Bernard MacLaverty is a master storyteller, and this is the essential MacLaverty novel: compassionate observation, elegant writing, and a heartrending story. It is also a profound examination of human love and how we live together―a chamber piece of resonance and power.

(retrieved from Amazon Sun, 12 Feb 2017 06:37:11 -0500)

A retired couple struggling with their differences and uncertainties attempt to repair their marriage during a vacation in Amsterdam, where they confront painful memories of a troubled time in their native Ireland.

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