Midwinter Break - Bernard MacLaverty

Staff Pick

It’s been years since Bernard MacLaverty came out with a new novel, but it’s been well worth the wait. In Midwinter Break (W.W. Norton, $24.95) MacLaverty gives us an elderly Irish couple living in Scotland, who take a brief winter trip to Amsterdam. Over their forty-year marriage, Gerry and Stella have forged a deep understanding of each other, along with a mutual fondness and regard. They share habits, anecdotes, and history and have a son now living in Canada with his wife and child. But the book’s title hints at another, more serious, midwinter break: that of their marriage. Gerry is a retired architect with a serious drinking problem. Though he’s been trying to hide the full extent of it, Stella has had enough. Unbeknownst to Gerry, she’s arranged to visit a Dutch Beguinage, a house of lay religious women, where she imagines she might start a new chapter of her life, one filled with contemplation and purpose. With heartrending insight, MacLaverty explores how the intimacies in a long marriage can sometimes obscure its deep fault lines; in this case, the initial flaws go back to a personal trauma the couple experienced during the Troubles. MacLaverty’s writing is pitch perfect. He is one of Ireland’s greatest living writers and he’s at the top of his game in this novel.