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About the book
  • Published: 29 January 2018
  • ISBN: 9781784704919
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $19.99
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Midwinter Break


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An intense exploration of love and uncertainty when a long-married couple take a midwinter break in Amsterdam.

A Guardian / Sunday Times / Irish Times / Herald Scotland / Mail on Sunday Book of the Year
Winner of the Bord Gáis Novel of the Year
Midwinter Break is a work of extraordinary emotional precision and sympathy, about coming to terms – to an honest reckoning – with love and the loss of love, with memory and pain...this is a novel of great ambition by an artist at the height of his powers’ Colm Tóibín
A retired couple, Gerry and Stella Gilmore, fly to Amsterdam for a midwinter break. A holiday to refresh the senses, to see the sights and to generally take stock of what remains of their lives. But amongst the wintry streets and icy canals we see their relationship fracturing beneath the surface. And when memories re-emerge of a troubled time in their native Ireland things begin to fall apart. As their midwinter break comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

  • Pub date: 29 January 2018
  • ISBN: 9781784704919
  • Imprint: Vintage
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 256
  • RRP: $19.99

About the Author

Bernard MacLaverty

Bernard MacLaverty lives in Glasgow. He has written five collections of stories and four other novels, including Grace Notes which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award. He has written versions of his fiction for other media – radio and television plays, screenplays and libretti.

Also by Bernard MacLaverty

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Praise for Midwinter Break

“MacLaverty is a sweetly astute writer, a master of fine detail, compassing the quotidian, the intimate and the sacred. Midwinter Break shows us how ordinary and immense love can be.”

Anne Enright

“Its portrayal of the tightening vice of alcohol addiction is unparalleled. But its profound exploration of its love, companionship, faith, work and our search for meaning in life made it a tender masterpiece, and one of the year’s essential reads.”

Justine Jordan, Guardian, Books of the Year

“Midwinter Break is a work of extraordinary emotional precision and sympathy, about coming to terms - to an honest reckoning - with love and the loss of love, with memory and pain. Full of scenes that are rendered with exquisite accuracy and care, allowing the most detailed physical descriptions to be placed against the possibility of a rich spiritual life, this is a novel of great ambition by an artist at the height of his powers.”

Colm Tóibín

“An artist with a subtle feel for the ordinary, MacLaverty’s wry, outstanding novel about the tests that time, age and life impose on love resonates with humanity and emotional intelligence.”

Eileen Battersby, Financial Times

“MacLaverty doesn’t publish novels very often but when he does they are outstanding.”

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times, Books of the Year

“MacLaverty's prose is deceptively simple and rewardingly straight-forward and efficient. But what he writes about in this much anticipated novel – the resilience and stress-lines of human love experienced over much time – is anything but simple and straight-forward. It’s the stuff of life.”

Richard Ford

“A gem of a novel.”

Allan Hunter, Herald Scotland, Books of the Year

“As always in MacLaverty’s pages, everything is alive with absorbing actuality. Characterisation has total credibility. Dialogue is pitch-perfect. Both Stella and Gerry are likeable and admirable… Ripples of wit and shrewd perception play over the novel’s scenes. Intelligent relish of life’s pleasures is appealingly conveyed… Damage done by toxic ideology is the persisting theme in all MacLaverty’s fiction. And he has never dealt with it more powerfully, subtly and affectingly than here.”

Peter Kemp, Sunday Times

“Alive with utterly convincing actuality, this affecting, funny and acute book is a triumph of quiet masterliness.”

Peter Kemp, Herald Scotland, Books of the Year

“It is extraordinary how his blunt, declarative sentences translate the fiddly minutiae of life… into utterly gripping prose… This unflinching attention to the textural detail of minute-by-minute existence slowly builds into a profound exploration of the biggest themes in both public and private life… A remarkable late flowering... This is a quietly brilliant novel, which makes for essential reading at any stage of life.”

Justine Jordan, Guardian

“It's an immersive and astonishing book.”

Jackie Kay, Herald Scotland, Books of the Year

“MacLaverty draws out his characters with great patience… The comfort and pattern of their relationship particularly shine in their dialogue, which is so good it’s film-ready… Throughout, the ride is enlivened by some beautiful writing.”

Miranda France, Literary Review

“[An] intense, emotionally vivid portrait of an elderly couple’s relationship in crisis.”

James Marriott, The Times, Books of the Year

“An exceptionally good book, beautifully and intelligently written, well worth waiting for… He writes with an unfailing and generous sympathy… Everything rings true… MacLaverty is a master of the significant detail.”

Allan Massie, Scotsman

“A marriage under strain after 40 years? A mini-break marred by bitter cold weather? An escapist dream that’s about to be nixed by reality? Gloomy though it sounds, this warm, intimate portrait of ageing love is one of the wittiest, wisest novels of the year.”

Mail on Sunday, Books of the Year

“Bernard MacLaverty shows a couple out of their element, so everything they see is something to note and enjoy… MacLaverty may be one of the last writers who can tell us what it is like to be a true Catholic… Midwinter Break is a touching, hopeful portrait of love’s complexity, written by a master craftsman, from the fullness of his heart.”

Anne Enright, Irish Times

“Midwinter Break… has MacLaverty’s trademark clarity and some tremendous turns of phrase.”

Kenny Farquharson, The Times

“A quiet, brilliantly written novel that packs a tremendous punch.”

Penelope Lively

“In this sympathetic, frequently witty portrait of ageing love… You won’t find a sharper, more intimate delineation of what marriage really adds up to.”

Hephzibah Anderson, Mail on Sunday

“Bernard MacLaverty’s first novel in 16 years is a heart-rending analysis of the weary affection and annoyances of a long marriage in its fragile twilight years.”

John Harding, Daily Mail

“A novel written with such subtlety and finesse you’re hardly aware of the artifice that enabled you to get inside the minds of this loving, unhappy couple.”

John Boland, Belfast Telegraph Morning

“Exquisitely written and profound.”

Una Brankin, Belfast Telegraph Morning

“It’s a very intimate portrait of a relationship between two older people… The best, and most moving, parts are flashbacks to their experiences during the Troubles.”

UK Press Syndication

“Masterfully alternating the point of view of the book between them, he observes with his careful, forensic eye the habits of a long relationship, the shared memories, routines and irritations… Under MacLaverty’s careful, compassionate spotlight, we see the cracks beneath the surface, the way in which even those closest to us remain somehow unknowable… The best qualities of MacLaverty’s writing are present in Midwinter Break: the kind but unflinching eye, the unfussy description, which has a clarity which feels artless, but is not.”

Susan Mansfield, Scotsman

“His finest to date… Good fiction sheds light too, illuminating the peculiar facets that make up the human condition. MacLaverty’s novel casts such a glow, and creates effects that prove to be both compassionate and compelling.”

Malcolm Forbes, Herald Scotland

“In his first novel for 16 years, he provides thrilling proof that he’s lost none of his ability to tackle big issues in a way that’s unfailingly quiet and unfussy, but that ends up being completely piercing… The result is a pin-sharp but ultimately compassionate portrait of the frustrations and pleasures of a long marriage – and of how closely the two things are linked.”

James Walton, Reader's Digest

“MacLaverty has always been his own man and his quietly penetrating insights yield many moments of recognition.”

Ellis O'Hanlon, Irish Independent

“Compellingly spot on.”

David Robinson, Scotsman

“It is paced flawlessly, is lapidary of structure, and is delivered with a purpose and clarity and control that can shut out the noise of the world, of your own heartbeat, even: one of those precious books that, when at last you look up from its pages, you need a moment of re-adjustment, of decompression, so immersive is it… This is an achingly sad book, and essential in its sadness. It is illuminated with skill and application and labour and something very like love.”

Niall Griffiths, Spectator

“This receptively low-key, unsettling novel is a portrait of what is perhaps the most difficult of alliances and affinities to sustain: a long marriage… It is a narrative of quiet, telling minutiae. MacLaverty brilliantly captures the couple’s sleeping patterns; the way non-sexual territory in bed is proportioned… And he captures superbly the unspoken nuances underscoring marital banter, the silent spaces that hover above decades of conjugality.”

Douglas Kennedy, New Statesman

“Over the four days of sightseeing, the reader is treated to a deep dive into a long marriage with all its quirks and foibles, and unique language… Midwinter Break may be bleak at times but, like the sun on a snowy day, is suffused with warmth, light and a lingering hope. It is further proof of MacLaverty’s talent.”

Stephen McGinty, Sunday Times

“Sure-handed and captivating… MacLaverty’s novel is relatively short...but it feels like a more expansive work because of its unhurried pace and careful attention to each moment… It is an intimate book that makes wonderful use of the close third person… A restrained simplicity is also the stylistic hallmark of this novel… Contemplating the mysteries that lie at the heart of every marriage, Stella thinks, “Nobody could peer into a relationship – even for a day or two – and come away with the truth.” It’s a measure of MacLaverty’s achievement here that he has done exactly that.”

Jon Michaud, Washington Post

“Beautifully observed and emotionally resonant, this is a novel to linger over.”

People Magazine

“I love the clarity and sparseness of MacLaverty’s prose and his way of creating flawed, utterly believable characters.”

Sheena Wilkinson, Belfast Telegraph Morning

“The writer’s generation will read it with wistful appreciation, and more than shudder at bad memories. Even before he shook loose the curse of Northern Ireland’s communal obligation for life in Islay and Glasgow, MacLaverty wrote beautifully. Across his wide later range his filmic gift of dialogue and scene-setting is constant.”

Fionnuala O’Connor, Irish News

“It is hard to believe that writer Bernard MacLaverty left Northern Ireland in 1975 to take up a job and raise his family in Scotland. His is a voice that is so distinctively from here. His stories stretching back down the years can be poignant and heart breaking but are also at times distinctive of a time and place and often funny. He has not lost the true sense of who he is; his accent; his warmth; his sincerity.”

Nuala McCann, Irish News

“MacLaverty is at his best when he exposes the minutiae of the Gilmore’s uneasy mix of affectionate rituals and barely disguised friction… The deceptively simple narrative style is subdued but compelling… The unhurried pace and intimate details magnify the distance between the couple. It would have been easy for MacLaverty to have made both characters unlikeable. Instead, they are subtly drawn, sharing many good qualities as well as flaws… Midwinter Break also explores love, loss and faith, and it at times achingly sad.”

Phoenix

“A delicate, compassionate masterpiece. ”

David Hayman, Herald Scotland, Books of the Year

“It's profoundly moving and sad – not the most uplifting read, especially when one's own parents are of a similar age – but exquisitely written and worth it for that alone.”

Elaine Robb, Pool

“A quietly powerful meditation on love in all its ragged glory. Subtly constructed and deceptively delivered, this neat novel chronicles a brief interlude, a midwinter city break in Amsterdam, in the lives of retired couple Stella and Gerry… The narrative power builds slowly, steadily and surely (including, towards the end, a brilliant summation of a life). Midwinter Break is a minor miracle of a book.”

Donal O'Donoghue, RTE Guide

“Why is Bernard MacLaverty not celebrated as one of the wonders of the world?”

Hilary Mantel, Guardian

“A heart-rending analysis of the weary affections and annoyances of a long marriage.”

Claire Allfree, Daily Mail (Ireland)

“A quietly powerful meditation on love in all its ragged glory… Subtly constructed and deceptively delivered… The narrative power builds slowly, steadily and surely in what is a minor miracle of a novel.”

Donal O'Donoghue, RTE Guide

“Understated, unhurried and emotionally devastating.”

Dermot Bolger, Irish Independent

“By far the best novel I’ve read this year.”

Diarmaid Ferriter, Irish Independent

“A tragicomic gem with rare emotional power.”

Malcolm Forbes, The National

“With great tenderness and insight, MacLaverty peeled back a marriage creaking under the weight of longevity, drink and violence. Brilliantly crafted.”

Madeleine Keane, Irish Independent

“A beautifully written, perfectly poised novel... Exquisite.”

William Leith, Evening Standard

“A beautifully written, perfectly poised novel... Exquisite.”

William Leith, Evening Standard

“Arguably [Bernard MacLaverty's] masterpiece.”

Ciaran Carty, Irish Times

“From the first sentences of Midwinter Break you know you're in the hands of a master… [A] gentle, life-affirming novel, MacLaverty reminds us of the quiet poetry that surfaces when we stop and simply look”

Emma Cummins, Quietus


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