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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. GerrA 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....

Title : Midwinter Break
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9781911214212
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 242 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Midwinter Break Reviews

  • Paromjit
    2018-11-23 17:12

    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.

  • Maureen
    2018-12-01 20:01

    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*

  • Elyse
    2018-11-17 16:52

    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

  • Diane S ☔
    2018-11-27 19:09

    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 yearsARC from edelweiss..

  • Fionnuala
    2018-12-05 19:07

    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, That's a hymn - a Him to Her! 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.

  • BlackOxford
    2018-12-09 18:50

    All Women Marry Beneath ThemselvesLike 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. “There was a time when Stella and he were congruent,” 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, “What was love but a lifetime of conversations. And silences. Knowing when to be silent. Above all, knowing when to laugh.” 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 As I Lay Dying - it’s all more than a little neurotic but somehow it works.

  • Saleh MoonWalker
    2018-11-17 21:58

    Onvan : Midwinter Break - Nevisande : Bernard MacLaverty - ISBN : 1911214217 - ISBN13 : 9781911214212 - Dar 242 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2017

  • Gumble's Yard
    2018-12-04 00:06

    The family is raised, the work’s done. That can’t be it, can it? There’s ten or twenty yeas left over, as it were. We’ve cut the life of our cloth wrongly. It doesn’t fit …. I have a sense of drift. I want to do something with the time I have left. Other than watch you drinkThis 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.He believed that everything and everybody in the world was worthy of notice, but the person beside him was something beyond that. To him her presence was as important as the world. And the stars around it. If she was an instance of the goodness in this world then passing through by her side was miracle enough

  • Dean
    2018-12-09 18:02

    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

  • Tony
    2018-12-02 19:55

    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 incident. 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 storyboarding, Gerry says.'Storyboarding?''It's a movie term. They draw a comic first -- then film it. It's a way of setting out exactly what you want to happen.''I like that word,' said Stella.The storyboarding of this book, the comic first, 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: You'd be a great one to send for sorrow. And dialogue that informs:'Just before we lighten up -- where do you want to be buried?'Gerry rolled his eyes and shrugged.'And you? At home or in Scotland?' he asked.'Scotland is home now,' she said.'Would you mind if I, or my ashes, was buried with you?''If you're still drinking I don't want you next nor near me.''I'll definitely have given it up by the time I'm dead.''In that case . . .' She smiled. 'I'll move over.'Gerry could glibly say: Moderation in all things . . . especially moderation.And from Stella: If you could only see yourself. You used to be so kind and considerate. What's happened to you? You're nothing but appetite.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:Can there be so many women in a similar position? Widows, the brutalised, women in need of a room of their own . . .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. 'There's a great tenderness in him,' she said. 'You can see he cherishes her. . . . But she's not so sure. Shy, yes. Sure, no.' . . . She pointed out the groom's hand around the woman's shoulder and his other hand resting on her breast. The bride's touch on the groom's hand.'She's allowing him to have his hand there,' she whispered. 'And her other one's protecting her stomach.''Yes.' Gerry nodded.'Somehow the hands seem too big.''Nonsense.''It's the subject of the painting -- the woman's permission -- and it's in the hands,' she said. 'He can do what he likes with them, Rembrandt can.'And so can MacLaverty.

  • Karen
    2018-12-14 23:47

    MIDWINTER BREAK BY BERNARD MACLAVERTYSpoiler Alert--You may not want to continue reading this review before you read the book.This is a story written with compassion and love. It is about a married retired couple named Gerry and Stella. There is a lot of peace and tranquility in terms of the way Bernard Maclaverty has written this lovely novel. The two main character's Gerry and Stella are from Ireland who now live in Scotland. Gerry used to be an architect and Stella was a school teacher. They are in their twilight years of their lives and marriage. They have one son named Michael and one grandchild named Toby who reside in Canada.Stella and Gerry decide to take a four day trip to Amsterdam where Stella who is very religious looks for a sanctuary to live. Stella and Gerry both experience flashbacks of the day Stella was shot in the stomach while pregnant with their only son by the IRA in Ireland. The story of that day is written seamlessly into the narrative. The bullet did not harm her unborn child since it was a gun shot wound that entered Stella's stomach and exited without harming her baby. Stella is knocked to the ground and makes a vow to God that she will devote her life to serving him if her unborn child and herself live. Stella and Michael miraculously are not injured from the gunshot wound. The outcome is that Stella can not have any more children.Gerry is drinking whisky and water every time he thinks Stella is not aware of what he is doing. Stella is aware of Gerry's alcoholism and her reason for going to Amsterdam is to keep the vow that she made to God and to leave her marriage to Gerry. Stella is interested in joining and living with a group in the Netherlands called the Beguines. The Beguines are a member of the dutch sisterhood, formed in the twelfth century, and not bound by vows. When Stella looks into this sisterhood, she finds out that the last sister in this group died in 1971. There still is a group that exists however you have to be between age 30 and 65 and it is costly.Stella has to make a decision and she tells Gerry that she wants to sell their home and get two separate places to live when they return home. There are many things to love about this book. I loved the courage that Stella exudes by making a decision to want more out of life than just settling to stay in a marriage where she is no longer happy. I loved both characters and the realism that is written about their relationship. Gerry really admires Stella and is a kind person, he has a drinking problem. The author is talented in weaving a contemporary story about real people with real problems.I don't want to tell what decision is made. Does Stella and Gerry stay together or do they separate? Does Gerry think he has a problem with alcohol? Is Gerry willing to admit he has a problem? I think the author did an excellent job of describing the different countries. It is a quiet but powerful story that is realistic and timely. It takes place in winter but you can smell the flowers and hear the birds. Thank you to Net Galley, Bernard Maclaverty and W.W. Norton & Company Publishing for providing me with my digital copy for a fair and honest review.

  • Dianne
    2018-12-04 20:13

    This is the story of Gerry and Stella, in their early sixties, off on a 4-day holiday to Amsterdam. They are at pivotal moment in their lives and their marriage. Gerry is an alchoholic and Stella is fed up and looking to lead a more purposeful and spiritual life.This was well-written but it really dragged for me, especially toward the end. I don't know how Gerry and Stella felt, but this seemed like the longest vacation in history. Too much blah blah blah. The last quarter of the book was more skimmed than read.Liked it, but didn't love it.

  • Tooter
    2018-11-16 19:58

    2.5 Stars rounded down. This book really dragged for me....not enough to DNF it but enough to keep hoping it would end soon so I could start another book.

  • Stephen Clynes
    2018-12-06 20:07

    Follow Gerry and Stella Gilmore as they go on a short break away to Amsterdam.I found Midwinter Break a refreshing change from your average run-of-the-mill mix of novels. It is a love story but not with young, vibrant, enthusiastic twenty year olds. Gerry and Stella are a retired couple who have been married for many, many years. I thought Bernard described the dynamics of having been married together for a very long time spot on. I really engaged with Gerry and Stella, it was all those little things that couples share subliminally in their married lives. Because of their age, they share mutual things, some of which brought a big smile to my face. They have a routine and rather than drag out the whole day, they restrict themselves to an “ailment hour”, when they are free to discuss their aches and pains!There is lots of good dry humour sprinkled through this story, for example…They approached the main terminal, protected behind stainless-steel bollards. ‘This must have cost millions,’ Gerry shouted above the noise of their cases. ‘What’s to stop a motorbike bomber going between the bollards?’In WH Smith’s Gerry bought a packet of Werther’s Original. He’d kid her on that he forgot. Then surprise her just before take-off.‘D’you like these?’She held up a cellophane pack from Marks & Spencer.‘What are they?’‘New pyjamas.’‘Black?’‘As sin.’He raised an eyebrow and looked up at her.‘Why? Did you think it’d be a turn-on - like sleeping with a priest?’‘Priests usually have enough independence to choose their own pyjamas.’Stella took her purse and approached the counter. She returned carrying Gerry’s drink and a jug. Gerry lifted his glass and looked at the measure.‘A well-built ant could piss more.’‘I asked for a double.’‘You’re learning.’‘Killing you with kindness.’‘I’ve missed the Ailment Hour.’‘We can do a two-hour stint tomorrow. If you feel well enough.’‘I’ve got these strange hairs growing beneath my watch…’‘I was only joking.’I liked how Midwinter Break focused on just Gerry and Stella. I got the impression that I went away with them to Amsterdam and that I was part of the party. This novel also explored Gerry’s relationship with alcohol and Stella’s relationship with Catholicism. Bernard has an extensive use of vocabulary and I liked his use of detail regarding Gerry’s old job as an architect, the troubles that took place in Northern Ireland and the questioning of religion by both Gerry and Stella. However, this is essentially a love story but has very little in the way of a plot. There are no big surprises and the reader peacefully bumbles along with Gerry and Stella. All very nice in a very leisurely way, a few drinks, some meals and a nice stroll around Amsterdam. Yes, Bernard does the married life thing very well indeed but this does not lead to an exciting read. It is engaging and comfortable but it is not edge of seat stuff. I wondered where this story was going and expected something big to happen at the end. The ending was disappointing but I found Midwinter Break to be a GOOD read that I will give 4 stars.Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher Random House UK, Vintage Publishing for giving me a copy of this book on the understanding that I provide an honest review.

  • Sue
    2018-11-17 19:51

    How emotionally draining this book turned out to be. It touched me on levels I hadn’t even considered before, perhaps because I am fast approaching the age of Gerry and Stella, and have also been married ‘for a protracted period’.It’s a fact, people change over time. They develop new interests or existing ones come more to the fore and might not be shared with a long-term partner. Personality foibles that seem charming and perfectly tolerable in youth can become irritating, or it may be that partners become less accommodating of each other.Gerry and Stella separately have come to wonder what they have done with their lives. Gerry’s years as an architect have not left a noticeable mark on the landscape - disappointed, he has withdrawn into short temper, insensitivity and disdain for others, and too much drink. In Stella’s case, a resurgence of the religious faith of her childhood, shrugged off in early adulthood, is causing her to question whether it’s not too late to live a better life, make some kind of difference to the world around her. Their interests seem to be diverging so widely that they need to consider whether they can continue together.We witness their weekend in Amsterdam in heartbreaking detail - their very different agendas, the little (and not so little) deceptions, their relief when a confrontation is avoided and a few hours alone achieved - yet their underlying love for each other glimmers on. The author’s insight is absolute. The incident with the earring in the Anne Frank house will stay with me forever. The writing is out of this world - I can’t believe I haven’t come across his work before but I’ll be seeking out his previous novels as a matter of urgency.Thanks so much to Random House Vintage via NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review.

  • Susan Johnson
    2018-11-13 17:51

    3.5 stars This is a beautifully written story of a middle-aged couple who are at the point of their lives where they are wondering what is next. They are examining if this is all there is. The writing is beautiful and the depiction of marriage in the little shared intimacies people share in long relationships. I was so touched that he took her hand stepping off curbs and kissed in elevators. Both people are coping with their own crutches. Sheila's is religion and Gerry's is "secret" drinking. Both are incredibly annoying to me. Gerry's addiction is so realistically depicted that I almost craved a drink. I am not a drinker but an addiction is an addiction and I smoked. I recognized the craving and the silent fear of running out of supplies. Gerry is always looking for the next bottle. There was a spot when he sits down for coffee and instantly wants a cigarette even though he hasn't smoked in 20 years that was so realistic that it almost brought me to my knees. I have that sensation and have had to give up coffee.They go for a mini vacation to Amsterdam in January which is surprising to me. Who wants to go to cold weather on a vacation but Sheila has an idea she wants to investigate. As they explore the city they re-examine their lives and choices in life. After a horrific incident in Belfast they have moved to Glasgow. Their only child and grandchild lives in Toronto, Canada. What do they want to do with the final pages of their story? It was rather bleak as they examine their crutches in detail and, frankly, a little off-putting to me. Still it is beautifully written and such an accurate portrayal of a marriage and compromises made. It really makes you wonder how you will spend the last part of your life and what is truly important. Thanks to Net Galley for a copy of this book in exchange for a review.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2018-11-19 20:11

    In MacLaverty’s quietly beautiful fifth novel, a retired couple faces up to past trauma and present incompatibility during a short vacation in Amsterdam. The limited time span and settings – the couple’s home in Glasgow plus various locations in Amsterdam, mostly interiors – are qualities that would lend themselves well to a film or theater adaptation. The author’s determination to follow these characters through all the wearisome tasks of travel, including airport check-in, getting on a train, finding their hotel, etc., means the narrative turns mundane at times. Luckily, flashbacks and glimpses into the characters’ thoughts open up a new dimension so readers should not feel they are stuck with a boring old couple on a staid holiday.My overall response was one of admiration for what this couple has survived and sympathy for their current situation – with hope that they’ll make it through this, too.See my full review at BookBrowse. (See also my article on the Beguines, a lay religious order.)

  • Hans
    2018-11-26 23:43

    Gerry and Stella are married a long time. They each have their own problem. They each deal with it in their own way. They bounce of each other. Their humour is superb. Situations are very recognizable. There's no escape in flight. They love each other deeply. They need each other.

  • G.H. Eckel
    2018-11-14 16:55

    Most people love this novel and I see why. The writing is good, the characters interact intimately, and all of us have been through the ups and downs of a relationship. What didn't work for me was the story line, which has to do with me not the novel. An older, married couple find themselves in an empty nest. He's alcoholic and dependent on her. She's decided to devote herself to religion because of a deal she cut with God 25 years ago. They're on vacation and she decides she wants to join a sisterhood, meaning, adios alcoholic husband. So, the meat of the book is the wife's displeasure with the husband. They're on a four day break, a midwinter break, when the prospect of divorce comes to the forefront. The only drama in the book then is will she or will she not leave him. I won't give away the answer but I guess, for me, although there are wonderful points of togetherness, there are far more moments of the wife belittling the husband and the husband being a turd by failing to take control of his actions. So, the pain of a marriage on the rocks is not an exciting topic for me. I ended up not being sympathetic toward the alcoholic or the nasty wife. We've all been through impossible times in relationships and, for some of us, those relationships have not survived. So, as readers, we get it and follow along. But it was a painful read for me. Again, that's just me, not the novel. The majority of readers have enjoyed this failing relationship and found truth in the ugliness. So, you'll probably like the novel; it's just not my favorite topic.

  • Barbara
    2018-12-07 22:44

    Mac Laverty is a writer of gorgeous prose, and deeply thoughtful novels. His latest novel strengthens his reputation as an exceptional writer. Stella and Gerry are a retired couple in their 70’s. Mac Laverty spreads details about their lives throughout the book rather than giving them to the reader upfront. They now live in Glasgow and have been there for several decades. Stella grew up in a large Catholic family in rural Northern Ireland and was the only student in her school to go on to get a university degree. She became a teacher at a girls’ comprehensive school in Belfast, where she and Gerry met at a dance. Gerry, also Catholic, studied architecture at a technical school in Belfast. He lacked the drive or perhaps talent to become an architect and ended up a university lecturer. They have one son, and one grandson. They live in Canada, and that distance is a source of heartbreak for Stella. The book takes place during a trip the couple make to Amsterdam in January. The trip was Stella’s idea, and she has a purpose, which she doesn’t share with Gerry. Gerry is a “secret” drinker, and he works hard to hide his drinking from his wife. In this kind of situation, often the drinker believes others are unaware of their addiction. Both have their secrets, which is pushing them apart. Amsterdam in January is an unusual choice for a getaway, but Mac Laverty portrays the city not as dim and cold in the winter light, but as a place of discovery, and hidden corners. While Gerry sleeps and drinks, Stella goes off on her own, looking for something she won’t share. Of the two, Stella continues to practice her Catholic faith, which Gerry has turned his back on.She wanted to live the life of her Catholicism. This was where her kindness, if she had any, her generosity, her sense of justice had all come from. And her humility, she must not forget humility. Catholicism was her source of spiritual stem cells.Gerry, always the architect, studies the buildings, and reflects.He tried to build a picture of this landscape before the snow. And when he succeeded in doing so, he subtracted the buildings. Dismantling them, andimagined how it would have looked centuries ago…As the story unfolds, the reader learns what drove Stella and Gerry out of Belfast. It was a single horrific event that continues to haunt each of them in different ways. As Gerry retreats into alcoholism, Stella considers a life without him. But this is a couple who deeply love each other. It is a short trip that leads both of them to face their fears, their secrets, and the meaning of the lives they have lived.Thanks to Net Galley for sharing a copy of this book for review.

  • Bettie☯
    2018-11-15 18:47

    BABTListen here :O)Description: 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. 1/9: A retired Northern Irish couple, Stella and Gerry Gilmore, fly from their home in Glasgow to Amsterdam for a long weekend: a holiday to refresh the senses, to do some sightseeing, to take stock. Their relationship seems safe, easy, familiar but over the course of a few days we discover the deep uncertainties that exist between them. Gerry, once an architect, is a heavy drinker who is set in his ways. Stella is tired of his lifestyle, worried about their marriage and angry at his constant undermining of her religious faith.2/9: Over the course of a few days it becomes clear that their growing differences may be too much for their 40-year marriage to withstand. 3/9: Stella slips out on a private errand, whilst Gerry battles with a memory.4/9 Stella takes Gerry to Begijnhof5/9: Growing tension6/9: A misunderstanding at Anne Frank House sets Stella reeling7/9: Gerry is beset with memories of an unsettling incident from early on in his marriage8/9: On the last day of the holiday, Stella returns to BegijnhofMacLaverty examines love, loss, and faith

  • Terri Jacobson
    2018-11-20 22:51

    I'm putting this aside on page 124. Gerry and Stella have been married for 40 years, and at this point Gerry is most concerned with his drinking and Stella is concerned with her spiritual life. They are on a winter vacation in Amsterdam. I'm a little bored and a little fed up with the characters. I'm leaving this unrated because I do think the story is going somewhere, I simply don't have the patience right now to see it through. Other books are pressing!

  • Barbara
    2018-11-29 21:48

    “Midwinter Break” is a quiet, beautiful novel about empty nesters that take a long weekend holiday. Author Bernard MacLaverty writes restrained yet intimate prose allowing the reader to be part of the holiday.Gerry and Stella Gilmore set off from their home in Scotland to travel to Amsterdam. Although told in third person, the writing is such that it’s a personal experience. The reader feels each characters experience and is akin to a fly on the wall. It is proven that both Gerry and Stella have strong feelings for each other. Yet Stella, who is devout in her faith, is searching for a more meaningful life than her current existence. Meanwhile, Gerry, who loves Stella more than she understands, has no clue that Stella is searching. A strong difference in their marriage is Stella’s devotion to her faith and Gerry’s indifference (to the point of mocking) of her faith. This difference is amplified when Gerry drinks, which is a lot. Stella is tired of his drinking. There was a pivotal event in their marriage that both are struggling with, and that the reader learns in bits and pieces through flashbacks. The event affected each in different ways. The novel is short, 243 pages, and is a story of four days of their marriage. In those pages, and through those four days, the reader experiences another pivotal moment in the Gilmore marriage. The marriage is strong and Gerry and Stella are interesting. For example, Stella believes that in every marriage there is a gardener and a flower. One must determine which one they are. Also, I love that they have allow an “ailment hour” each evening. Their inner musings alone are reasons to read this novel.I highly recommend this one. I adore MacLaverty’s literary ease in story telling. It’s an emotional story and rewarding to read.

  • Jill
    2018-11-15 21:49

    I have very mixed feelings about this book. I wouldn't even say it is a book about a marriage but rather a book about two people who happen to be married trying to find meaning in their lives. This was a heavy read for me and reminds me again how the emotional burdens we carry with us can destroy more than just ourselves. 3.5 stars rounded to 4 mainly for the beautiful last page and because the author was able to make me feel connected to two characters which I started out not liking or understanding at all.

  • Jonathan Pool
    2018-11-19 21:11

    "There are important questions to be answered. How can we best live our lives? How can we live good lives"?(90)Stella is the victim of a life changing event. She continues to contemplate the meaning of life in the light of her unfortunate experience, and is no nearer to finding any answers as the book closes. Midwinter Break leaves this reader with a similar feeling that the huge cracks in the marriage of Stella and Gerry are unresolvable.This is such an Irish book. The main events affecting the lives of Stella and Gerry took place in the 1980s. The time of the 'Troubles'. Bernard MacLaverty is a fine writer and while this is a long awaited book in the making, it's style and feel are very much in the mould of Irish writers whose fiction was dominated by sectarian violence in Ireland. The fractured country of Brian Moore, and John McGahern.The Gilmores are perfectly suited in many ways. They are horribly typical of certain older couples who fuel each other's foibles and pettiness. The Gilmores collude on an Amsterdam tram as they feign ignorance of the ticketing rules. The Gilmores have 'Ailment Hour'. They speak in the third person of their life 'storyboard'.Gerry, though, is a self destructive, delusional alcoholic. Seemingly the only initiative he shows is how to procure, consume, and then dispose of the evidence, of his alcohol.A pitiful character who is never pitiable.Stella is an unfulfilled Catholic, who, with old age, has run out of time to find true spiritual calm.What a sad story.Midwinter Break is well written novel and oh so bleak

  • Phil
    2018-11-18 15:58

    I do not write plot summaries. The publicist has done a fine job with the one provided by the publisher.Stella and Gerry are an “old married couple,” in their upper sixties, married for at least forty years. Both are set in their ways, both accommodate their partner’s habits, for better or worse. One senses and witnesses acts of love and compassion.But both are living with deep-rooted frustrations which are acted out by each on the other (perhaps Gerry more than Stella). Gerry trained as an architect and aspired to design building that would become landmarks, inspiring other for years to come. But he ended up teaching the rudiments of architecture. (He exemplifies what George Bernard Shaw famously wrote, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.) His frustration is manifested in his heavy tippling. He is clearly alcoholic.Stella was a grade-school teacher, but as Gerry mocks her, “teaching is an anagram for cheating.” Her frustration lies also in an inability to create permanence – Her days to life was “woman’s work,” cooking and cleaning and picking up after. She resents the anonymity women haves suffered throughout history. Coming near to death in an IRA shooting while pregnant, she made a “foxhole deal with God,” to devote her life to God’s service – But dirty pots and pans, ashtrays, and nappies intrude on her heart’s desire.A midwinter vacation to Amsterdam brings everything to the crisis that comes close to destroying each of them and their relationshipMidwinter Break is among the most achingly beautiful and psychologically perceptive novels I have read. He understands the human condition and communicates that to the reader whose mind and heart are open. Stella and Gerry are real people; one might come away thinking one has known them for years. I found they resemble people I know (for I am of their generation, perhaps older). Mr. MacLaverty has turned the magnifying glass on their lives around and made it into a mirror into which I can see myself.My thanks to the publisher, W.W. Norton, and Netgalley for the privilege and pleasure of reading an advance (digital) copy.

  • MisterHobgoblin
    2018-12-11 20:52

    Bernard MacLaverty is a sublime writer and Midwinter Break is as good as anything he has ever written.Gerry and Stella Gilmore are a long-married couple of pensionable age, living in Glasgow but originally from the north of Ireland. Gerry is fond of a nightcap and Stella has quite a strong Catholic faith. They know one another inside out. They have decided to take a mid-winter break to Amsterdam, perhaps to celebrate their enduring marriage.Gradually, and gently, we start to see the flaws in the characters emerge. This is done with such grace; the reader knows, likes and empathises with both Gerry and Stella; the flaws that emerge are real, but we see the real people beneath and they are likeable. As they wander the streets of Amsterdam - both together and separately - they start to discover more about themselves and each other. Partly, they explore the present day, partly their lives in Glasgow, and partly their lives in Ireland. This is a novel about ageing. I recognise myself in Gerry. In fact, the similarity between Gerry's life and my own is uncanny - right down to the night-time leg cramps. There are themes of unfulfilled ambition, fatigue, closure. There is guilt, including the nagging guilt about minor slights and mistakes from years ago. But also there is lots and lots of love. Not bodice ripping young love, but old, mature love that is too often taken for granted. There is change, often not for the better. The change of a nature of a community, the change brought by significant events, and the change brought simply by time, with two people slowly ceasing to be who they once were. The questions that arise are whether to resist or accept those changes. It is an illustration of the Serenity Prayer:"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,Courage to change the things I can,And wisdom to know the difference."Midwinter Break is deeply moving. It speaks of truths that many of us will face some day soon.

  • Anne
    2018-12-14 15:51

    This novel reminds me so much of the film ‘Le Weekend’ which features a remarkably similar ‘storyboard’ of an older married couple finding their relationship under strain whilst on a short holiday abroad – although the film is set in Paris, rather than Amsterdam, where this story takes place. In both cases we find the female partner is openly dissatisfied, whilst the husband is either in denial - or bewildered by the breakdown of communication between them. MacLaverty’s compassionate exploration of this quandary is totally relatable, with its immersive observational detail and character portrayal. I loved the intimate familiarity of the banter, contrasting with what is unspoken between them, and what this says about the underlying fragility of the romantic bond, as couples age and grow apart, for one reason or another.

  • I read novels
    2018-11-23 21:02

    Twitter @favouritenovelsI really enjoyed reading about an elderly couple for a change. The writing is superb, how elderly people lead their day to day life. One of my favourite sentences in the book was.... He was wearing a red angora wool scarf knotted at his throat. He looked at himself in the full length mirror. Somebody said I look flamboyant wearing this. Who? I don't like flamboyant. I laughed at this sentence as Gerry didn't like the word flamboyant. I personally think that super cool to look flamboyant. I have found that's there seems to be a huge gap in the publishing world for stories about retired couples, that's exactly what attracted me to this book how the subject of people was different. Gerry and Stella go on a midwinter break to Amsterdam in theory for a happy time together, but after so many years of being married Stella finally has something to tell Gerry. You will all love this book whatever your age.

  • Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
    2018-12-12 16:51

    See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary FlitsI 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.