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Review: Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

04 Jan

9781784704919This is a perfect choice for Waterstones’ Book of the Month for January 2018.  Just as we’ve (possibly) spent a little too long in the company of relatives, and (definitely) overindulged in food, drink and the buying of things, let this story remind you of the vital essentials of life.

This novel simmers down into a deceptively simple love story of a couple in their twilight years.  Gerry and Stella Gilmore travel to Amsterdam for a post-Christmas break. As their stories gently unfold, we learn more about the lives of this architect and teacher; as parents and children, lovers and spouses, their frailties and their strengths.

Over their four days away, it becomes clear that, despite decades of happy marriage and their continued love for each other, Gerry and Stella’s lives are moving in separate directions: Gerry towards ‘just a smidgen’ more of strong drink, Stella towards a more devout Catholic life.

Both characters are Northern Irish expats living in Scotland; there is an excellent sense of place during their break in Amsterdam, with their memories of growing up on the North Eastern Irish coast and their lives together in Scotland.

This couple have a jokey, loving familiarity with each other and during their conversations and memories, their past years together are slowly revealed, returning to and circling around a significant event in their early marriage.

It was not as maudlin as I had feared; there is a great deal of dry humour, reflecting the familiarity and affection of this couple’s decades together. There was a great depth of emotion evoked; I really cared for Stella and Gerry.  (I also particularly liked the mention of my personal favourite medieval female mystic, Julian of Norwich (she of the eternally reassuring  ‘All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well’) and the Beguine community reminded me to look out my  undergraduate Theology dissertation…. I also noted the name check for Waterstones in Amsterdam: Gerry ‘liked the familiarity of the big W and the black frontage’.)

This is a subtle, internalised domestic drama of a couple in their twilight years together. It might not end far from where it began (as Gerry says, ‘the whole holiday has been a cul-de-sac’) but at its essence is an exploration of a couple remembering and learning how to cherish each other, acknowledging and then loving their differences.

This delicately nuanced portrait of a long-term relationship, their ageing together and shared significant experiences combine to make a seasonally warming read.

 

Thanks to Vintage Publishers for the advanced proof copy, way back in the Summer; it was worth the wait!

ISBN  978178404919 (pbk)

 
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Posted by on 04/01/2018 in review

 

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