Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

Firstly, apologies to my few faithful followers for not posting a book review in ages!

I have been rather busy of late with work matters.

Today’s book won the Irish Winner of the Bord Gáis Novel of the Year 2017.

midwinter break image

Bernard MacLaverty hails from Northern Ireland, so my interest was immediately piqued, and having heard great things about him as an author I ran out to buy the book.

The premise is this:  Gerry and Stella are happily married.  They head off on a four week break to Amsterdam.  We see that they are as comfortable together as a pair of old slippers.  Happily married, or so it seems on the surface.

As the novel progresses, we find out that Stella was injured in a bomb blast in Belfast many years previously, and the couple moved to Glasgow.   Stella has a deep spirituality and faith.  Gerry does not.  Gerry likes to drink – a lot.  Stella does not.  And yet, they obviously care for each other deeply.

So what do you do when you begin to question what your life is really all about, and whether the person sharing it with you, understands you at all?   These are just a couple  of issues Stella grapples with as she pounds the pavements of Amsterdam, while Gerry is either sleeping or secretly drinking.

This novel is a masterclass in the art of understated elegance and simplicity.  MacLaverty notices all kinds of details of both objects and personality traits, and describes them with relish. Here Stella dwells on a stone, as she remembers falling in love:

“She was always on the lookout for stones. Only white perfect ones would make her stoop. . . . When they were wet and glistening they seemed special but she knew that when they dried out maybe some yellow or grey would creep into their colour. The perfect ones would end up in a glass bowl on her table. It was their simplicity she found so attractive.”

Gerry is completely oblivious to Stella’s restlessness and ongoing spiritual ‘dark night of the soul.’

As his drinking worsens on the trip, her faith increases, and she visits a group called the Beguines, “a Catholic sisterhood who lived alone as nuns, but without vows.”   She considers joining them, but she is unable to, as they no longer exist in the place she had sought with them.

As she and Gerry are forced to confront the truth about themselves and their relationship, they find themselves stuck in the airport as a snow storm rages around them.  This apt metaphor will bring their feelings, resentments, hurts and fears to the surface, as they decide if they can survive their own storm.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I enjoyed the beautiful prose of this novel.   It’s not action packed, so if you like your books filled with action, then this won’t suit you at all.

However, if you like words, beautiful writing and the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of human relationships, then look no further.

This novel is breathtakingly wonderful.