Thursday, 3 August 2017

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty
Published in the UK by Jonathan Cape today, the 3rd of August 2017.

256 pages towards Olivia's fun August Reading Challenge to read an average of 50 pages each day throughout the month, featured in WorldReads: Northern Ireland and my Book Of The Month for August 2017

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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 which 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 which 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.
Bernard MacLaverty is a master storyteller, and Midwinter Break is the essential MacLaverty novel: accurate, compassionate observation, effortlessly elegant writing and a tender, intimate, heart-rending story – but it is also a profound examination of human love and how we live together, a chamber piece of real resonance and power. Forty years on from his first book, Bernard MacLaverty has written his masterpiece.

I loved this novel! MacLaverty has written a sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of Stella and Gerry's relationship, the deep cracks in which are exposed during a long weekend holiday in Amsterdam. I visited the city at the same time of year, maybe a decade ago now, so enjoyed MacLaverty's evocative descriptions. I remember the bitter cold and cosy restaurants, the fearless cyclists and the strange mist of an evening that lingers over the canals.

In Midwinter Break, I could empathise with and understand both characters equally, and both are very real - people I could randomly meet on any day. There is no frantic action or superhuman stunts in this book. Instead we have an introspective examination of two lives at the point of divergence after many years together. One is driven to absolutely make the most of whatever years are left, the other is content to squander time in a blissfully unaware alcoholic haze while memories of a previous occasion when they were nearly separated linger ominously in the background.

MacLaverty perfectly captures conversational fragments and the mundane habits of people used to each other's presence for decades. Stella and Gerry struggle to genuinely communicate because they haven't needed to discuss Issues for years and watching them flounder is almost painful. They are intimately aware of each other's physical ailments, but have lost touch with their hopes and dreams. I felt that I got to know these people so well during reading that I felt a little bereft on finishing reading - a sure sign of a good book for me! I don't think Midwinter Break will have universal appeal. Its themes are Women's Fiction, but without the saccharine sweetness of so much of that genre, and its gentle pace encouraged me to reflect on my own sense of purpose as I read about Stella's.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Bernard MacLaverty / Contemporary fiction / Books from Northern Ireland

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