cover image Midwinter Break

Midwinter Break

Bernard MacLaverty. Norton, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-393-60962-2

The fifth novel from Booker finalist MacLaverty is a quietly powerful elegy that chides two finely-wrought characters for not being capable of defining what they value most in life. Gerry and Stella, in a possibly final stage of their married life—a life that included a near-tragic brush with the Troubles back in their native Northern Ireland—take a winter trip from their home in Scotland to Amsterdam, a journey that starts as a holiday but ends a crucible. In the cold and gloom, amid puzzling ennui that has gripped Stella, Gerry, an architect and alcoholic, is a keen, if cynical, observer of a world he finds bemusing but less larded with burdensome meaning than does Stella. With a kind of existential humor he teases his wife about her religious fervor. Stella, meanwhile, is dead serious about her Catholicism, and she has secretly planned the holiday as a first step toward leaving Gerry. She has heard of a group of lay nuns who reside in Amsterdam, and she steals away one morning to pay a visit, thinking she might ask to join them. Stella is the alpha partner in this eroded relationship, but it is Gerry’s thoughts, about everything, upon which we rely for wisdom. Because the reader knows what Stella intends before Gerry does, his every observation is shot through with melancholy; his simple declaration of devotion on this graceful novel’s final page is exquisite. (Aug.)