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  1. Book ImageMidwinter Break: A Novel

    Bernard MacLaverty

    For readers of Colm Toíbín, a moving portrait of a marriage in crisis and a couple’s search for salvation.

Discussion Questions

 

  1. What is the nature of faith in this novel? How does the notion of faith affect Gerry and Stella individually?
  2. Different kinds of barriers are a recurring theme in Midwinter Break. What are they, and how do they define the characters?
  3. Why do Gerry and Stella seem so amazed by the young people they see riding bicycles around Amsterdam? How does their individual and collective amazement become symbolic of their relationship?
  4. The alternating points of view allow the reader to empathize with both—or either—of the characters. Does this affect your perception of the characters and their treatment of each other during the holiday?
  5. Stella’s religious beliefs drive much of her actions in Amsterdam. It isn’t until late in the novel that she reveals the vow she made with God after she’d been shot, and that Catholicism is “her source of spiritual stem cells” (201). Did this come as a surprise? How do her beliefs affect their marriage?
  6. Touch is an integral part of Gerry and Stella’s relationship, from kissing when alone in the lift to holding hands when crossing roads. How would you describe the nature of their marriage?
  7. Contention over religious beliefs is at the heart of Midwinter Break. It comes in the form of the unrest in Northern Ireland and in the marriage of the Gilmores. How do these parallel contentions factor into the deteriorating relationship between Gerry and Stella?
  8. At the end of the passage about their holiday to Ballycastle, we read that Stella “felt a joy of sorts when her fingers encountered the grains of sand in her [coat] pockets” (47). Is it possible, in years to come, that she’ll feel a similar joy when she looks at the flowers that grow from the bulbs Gerry bought her in Amsterdam?
  9. Would you classify Gerry as an alcoholic? How is his stance on drinking—that one is either drunk or sober—problematic within the confines of his daily life? How has it affected his marriage?
  10. What do you think changes in Stella from the moment she leaves the earring on the mantelpiece at the Anne Frank house to the moment she sits in the café downstairs (127–28)? If her commiseration with Anne Frank is sincere, is she wrong to have left the token?
  11. Amsterdam seems to be full of discarded things: the block of ice in front of the hotel, flowers, old bicycles. What significance does this have on Stella’s decision to leave or stay with Gerry?
  12. The day Stella is shot is remembered separately and in bits by both Gerry and Stella. How does this convey the story of the day? Does Gerry’s distress and Stella’s initial confusion about what had happened flesh out the experience?
  13. How do you feel about the end of the novel? Do you think the ending is hopeful? Will their marriage survive?

 

About Bernard MacLaverty

Bernard MacLaverty lives in Glasgow, Scotland. His books include Cal and Grace Notes, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year Award.

Books by Bernard MacLaverty

  1. Book CoverThe Anatomy School

    A coming-of-age story of a northern Irish boy getting out from under the thumb of mother, church, and country.More

  2. Book CoverCal

    “Bernard MacLaverty’s powerful novel is a love story as affecting and tragic as you could want.”—USA TodayMore

  3. Book CoverCal: A Novel

    "Bernard MacLaverty's powerful novel is a love story as affecting and tragic as you could want."—USA TodayMore