Monday, 1 October 2018

Midwinter Break



I didn't think that I'd heard of Bernard MacLaverty before Midwinter Break, his most recent book, but I see now that I have heard of (but of course not read) one of his previous titles- Grace Notes. I saw people talking about Midwinter Break on Booktube earlier this year I think. Something about it really appealed and when I saw the audiobook in my BorrowBox I was soon downloading it. 

Gerry and Stella are an older Northern Irish couple living in Scotland. Gerry, is a retired architect, Stella a retired teacher. Gerry is slipping further and further into alcoholism and the hold that whiskey has over him, while Stella has a deepening faith. Stella's faith has always been strong, whilst Gerry has long been a non-believer. Stella organises a short holiday in Amsterdam for them as a midwinter break. Unbeknownst to Gerry she has an ulterior motive for selecting Amsterdam as their destination. 

The whole story is told over just the three or four days of their trip to Amsterdam. It is often incredibly detailed. But it tells the story of their marriage, how they met, some of the trials they have weathered during their marriage. I can't remember ever reading a book by a Northern Irish writer, but certainly the themes of poor upbringings, Catholicism and alcohol are familiar from other Irish reads. I appreciated the nuanced details like the shape of the head on a Guinness when it has been poured, and before it has been sipped. 

I really enjoyed this beguilingly simple tale of a marriage at a crossroads. And I enjoyed Amsterdam as a setting. One of my friends was there as I was listening, and I visited Amsterdam myself in 2013. I've been to Anne Frank House, and to the Rijksmuseum, both destinations for Stella and Garry on their trip. Although I don't know that I saw any of the same paintings at the Rijksmuseum. It is a big place I guess. I certainly don't remember The Jewish Bride. 

The Jewish Bride
I'm really glad that this is no longer thought to be
a father bestowing a necklace on his daughter...

I listened to the audio version and definitely liked the narration of Stephen Hogan, his delightful Irish accent was perfect for the story. Sometimes the time slips weren't terribly obvious and I would need to double back to check what was happening, and when. Lots of audiobooks do this, which is most frustrating- they really need to add a brief pause, that would be indicated in the printed book by formatting or a slight gap.

2 comments:

Brona Joy said...

Hi Louise

Hope your ankle is healing nicely :-)

Because I follow a number of your posts and get follow up emails if a new comment is left I can tell you that you are being spammed fairly heavily on some of your older posts. Today's notification came in for one of the Hugo posts.

Louise said...

Oh sorry you're getting spammed by my spam Brona. I do delete it when I notice it. I hadn't thought of it bothering anyone else. My ankle is healing pretty well, I still know that it's there, but it's nearly back to normal I think.