‘Midwinter Break’ by Bernard MacLaverty – Drowning in a Sea of Mundanity

 

‘Midwinter Break’ by Bernard MacLaverty    (2017) – 243 pages

I have read nearly all of the fiction of Bernard MacLaverty, and in each of his other novels and stories I was ultimately touched by the plights of his characters.  MacLaverty is known as a master of the quotidian and his quiet work has had a strong effect on me in the past.   However while reading his latest work, ‘Midwinter Break’, I constantly felt like I was drowning in a sea of mundanity, and I never did feel the poignancy I was supposed to feel for these characters.

In ‘Midwinter Break’, we have an old couple Gerry and Stella.  He is a retired architect, she is a housewife. He has a drinking problem; she is a devout Catholic.  Gerry is constantly sneaking drinks of Jameson behind Stella’s back. Even at this late stage after being married for several decades, Stella is still considering leaving Gerry.  She wants to join a group that is like a convent, however does not require vows of poverty or chastity.

Gerry and Stella are taking a short winter vacation in Amsterdam, and that is where most of the novel takes place.

Everything about this old couple is relentlessly ordinary.  I almost feel it is unfair to quote the dialogue here but I must to give you an idea of what you will encounter if you read this novel.

“What’s that?” said Gerry.

“Styling mousse.”

“And what’s that supposed to do?”

“It adds body to my – sadly – limp hair.”

“I wonder would it do anything for me,” Gerry said. 

“Volumising hold, as the can says.  Have you never seen me do this before?”

“Not that I remember.”

“At home I do all this in the bathroom.” 

There are pages and pages of this not exactly scintillating conversation about pigeons, flowers, coffee, etc., between Gerry and Stella.   I believe this story of Gerry and Stella would have worked much better as a short story rather than a novel.  That way MacLaverty could have given us the impression of the ordinariness of their lives without delivering us the full load.

There is one event that happened to Stella when she was pregnant many years ago that seems almost preposterous given the boredom of their current lives, but I suppose anything can happen to anyone at any time.

I must consider ‘Midwinter Break’ a disappointment, but Bernard MacLaverty is still in my pantheon of great writers due to his previous profound and moving work.

.

Grade :    C

 

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9 responses to this post.

  1. *gulp* I haven’t read past the first paragraph of this review because this is one of the Booker nominees I actually have, but *chuckle* you haven’t done anything to make me want to read it!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I am definitely taking the minority view on ‘Midwinter Break’, as most of the reviews have been extremely positive. I try to convey my own honest reactions to a novel, and this one didn’t work for me even though all his previous novels and stories have moved me. MacLaverty is getting up there in years and this is his first novel in many years, so the other reviewers may be honoring his lifetime achievement rather than this particular novel.

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  2. Interesting… I’ve heard so many great things about this one and have it on my wish list but was going to wait until the paperback edition came out. I have never read MacLaverty but I have a couple on my TBR because he comes so highly recommended by so many. Do you have a particular favourite?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi Kimbofo,
      I particularly like Bernard MacLaverty’s short stories. He has written five collections of his stories, and there is also a giant collection of all his stories. But up until this latest, I have also loved all his novels too. 🙂

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  3. I have never read MacLaverty but I do rather like novels about very ordinary people. However pages and pages of conversation don’t sound quite as interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi heavenall,
      If you like novels about very ordinary people, there are two English/Irish writers I would highly recommend, Elizabeth Taylor and William Trevor. In the US/Canada, there are Ann Tyler and Alice Munro who do a spectacular job portraying unspectacular lives.

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      • Yes I am a very big Elizabeth Taylor fan, I have read a few William Trevor books but only one collection by Alice Munro. I of course read quite a lot of Anne Tyler though not recently.

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