Midwinter Break

MIDWINTER BREAK


“[A] wrenchingly intimate depiction of a couple in the chilly, hibernal years of their marriage.… [A book] with rare and unexpected beauty.”—Wall Street Journal

With Midwinter Break, a moving portrait of retired couple Gerry and Stella Gilmore’s marriage in crisis, Bernard MacLaverty reminds us why he is regarded as one of the greatest living Irish writers. Through accurate, compassionate observation and effortlessly elegant writing, MacLaverty reveals the long-unspoken insecurities that exist between Gerry and Stella over their four-day holiday in Amsterdam, crafting a profound examination of human love.

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“[A] wrenchingly intimate depiction of a couple in the chilly, hibernal years of their marriage.… [A book] with rare and unexpected beauty.”—Wall Street Journal

With Midwinter Break, a moving portrait of retired couple Gerry and Stella Gilmore’s marriage in crisis, Bernard MacLaverty reminds us why he is regarded as one of the greatest living Irish writers. Through accurate, compassionate observation and effortlessly elegant writing, MacLaverty reveals the long-unspoken insecurities that exist between Gerry and Stella over their four-day holiday in Amsterdam, crafting a profound examination of human love.

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  • W.W. Norton & Company
  • Paperback
  • September 2018
  • 208 Pages
  • 9780393356236

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$15.95

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About Bernard MacLaverty

Bernard MacLaverty (photo by James Anderson)Bernard MacLaverty lives in Glasgow, Scotland. His books include LambCal, and Grace Notes, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award.

Author Website

Praise

“Sure-handed and captivating.”The Washington Post

“Utterly gripping…This is a quietly brilliant novel, which makes for essential reading.”Guardian

“[A] tender, affecting novel…MacLaverty’s gorgeous prose is tactile and understated…and the poignancy of his story fills the reader with yearning.”Minneapolis Star Tribune

Discussion Questions

1. What is the nature of faith in this novel? How does the notion of faith affect Gerry and Stella individually?

2. Different kinds of barriers are a recurring theme in Midwinter Break. What are they, and how do they define the characters?

3. Why do Gerry and Stella seem so amazed by the young people they see riding bicycles around Amsterdam? How does their individual and collective amazement become symbolic of their relationship?

4. The alternating points of view allow the reader to empathize with both—or either—of the characters. Does this affect your perception of the characters and their treatment of each other during the holiday?

5. Stella’s religious beliefs drive much of her actions in Amsterdam. It isn’t until late in the novel that she reveals the vow she made with God after she’d been shot, and that Catholicism is “her source of spiritual stem cells” (201). Did this come as a surprise? How do her beliefs affect their marriage?

6. Touch is an integral part of Gerry and Stella’s relationship, from kissing when alone in the lift to holding hands when crossing roads. How would you describe the nature of their marriage?

7. Contention over religious beliefs is at the heart of Midwinter Break. It comes in the form of the unrest in Northern Ireland and in the marriage of the Gilmores. How do these parallel contentions factor into the deteriorating relationship between Gerry and Stella?

8. At the end of the passage about their holiday to Ballycastle, we read that Stella “felt a joy of sorts when her fingers encountered the grains of sand in her [coat] pockets” (47). Is it possible, in years to come, that she’ll feel a similar joy when she looks at the flowers that grow from the bulbs Gerry bought her in Amsterdam?

9. Would you classify Gerry as an alcoholic? How is his stance on drinking—that one is either drunk or sober—problematic within the confines of his daily life? How has it affected his marriage?

10. What do you think changes in Stella from the moment she leaves the earring on the mantelpiece at the Anne Frank house to the moment she sits in the café downstairs (127–28)? If her commiseration with Anne Frank is sincere, is she wrong to have left the token?

11. Amsterdam seems to be full of discarded things: the block of ice in front of the hotel, flowers, old bicycles. What significance does this have on Stella’s decision to leave or stay with Gerry?

12. The day Stella is shot is remembered separately and in bits by both Gerry and Stella. How does this convey the story of the day? Does Gerry’s distress and Stella’s initial confusion about what had happened flesh out the experience?

13. How do you feel about the end of the novel? Do you think the ending is hopeful? Will their marriage survive?