...[a] sure-handed and captivating novel ... MacLaverty’s novel is relatively short (240 pages), but it feels like a more expansive work because of its unhurried pace and careful attention to each moment of the Gilmores’ sojourn. We accompany this couple not only to the Anne Frank House and the Rijksmuseum, but also into their deepest selves. 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. MacLaverty’s only missteps are his occasionally clumsy and largely unnecessary segues into flashbacks ... 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.
It is extraordinary how his blunt, declarative sentences translate the fiddly minutiae of life – the pleated paper from a bar of hotel soap, the cellophane packaging round a pair of pyjamas – into utterly gripping prose. With acute, understated tenderness, he charts the medical palaver and hyper-awareness of the body’s fragility that come with age ... 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: faith, politics and fanaticism; love and loneliness; joint compromise and individual purpose ... In 40 years of short stories and four previous novels, MacLaverty has written often about the distance between couples: about men floored by alcohol, and women examining their faith; about religious prejudice in Northern Ireland, the violence of the Troubles and the stranglehold of the Catholic church. Midwinter Break reads as both a summation of his themes and a remarkable late flowering ... This is a quietly brilliant novel, which makes for essential reading at any stage of life.
...[a] wrenchingly intimate depiction of a couple in the chilly, hibernal years of their marriage ... Mr. MacLaverty’s telescopic observational powers imbue these routines with rare and unexpected beauty ... Spliced into these prayer-like scenes are glancing flashbacks to the attack in Belfast. Midwinter Break gradually expands to reveal a couple both scarred and soldered together by near tragedy. Even as Gerry and Stella float apart, their shared memories are like cords that keep returning them to one another.
Short, rich and precisely written…In this finely detailed rendering of a couple’s virtues and foibles, there are numerous outstanding, jewel-like scenes. [T]his is a satisfying, thoroughly enjoyable, and even at times tongue clucking read.
This tender, affecting novel takes place over several days when Gerry and Stella Gilmore fly from their home in Scotland to Amsterdam for a short vacation. Married many years, they have grown accustomed to each other’s quirks and to reading each other’s thoughts. But both have secrets ... MacLaverty tells the story first through Gerry’s eyes, then through Stella’s. The trip unfolds almost moment by moment in quotidian details that are somehow mesmerizing... The slow pace and intimate details magnify the distance between the two. That they love each other is not in question; whether or not the marriage will survive most definitely is ... MacLaverty’s gorgeous prose is tactile and understated... It might seem contrived from a lesser writer, but in this case it feels just right.
Belfast-born Bernard MacLaverty’s cinematic fifth novel — his first in 16 years — is muted, exact and intense. It builds on the intuitive genius apparent throughout his work... In Midwinter Break he makes inspired use of this distance when exploring the emotional and psychological displacement that undercuts the narrative — and the marriage ... Initially it appears that MacLaverty has created two somewhat unappealing, self-absorbed central characters ... The prose is plain, with the occasional colloquialism or regional shift in syntax. Words are vital; the 'break' of the title refers to a vacation, yet also suggests a rupture or separation ... 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.
Deploying a masterful palette of details and allusions ... MacLaverty makes the reader share some of the regret in the prospect of a sudden sundering by giving the couple a keen, humorous, mutually delightful banter that comes only with years of wit and happy practice. A closely observed, deeply sympathetic rendering of a relationship and the fissures that threaten to wreck it.
...a quietly powerful elegy that chides two finely-wrought characters for not being capable of defining what they value most in life ... 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.