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...