I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

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Folks Like Us

Carlo Gébler
Midwinter Break, by Bernard MacLaverty, Vintage, 256 pp, ISBN: 978-1784704919 Stella and Gerry Gilmore, both Ulster Catholics, are children of the 1940s; she’s working class and rural, he’s middle class and urban. They are educated in the 1950s, enter the workplace in the 1960s, marry in the 1970s as the Troubles get going, and produce a son, Michael. Not long after their son’s birth, disgusted with paramilitarism (especially its Catholic incarnation, which they loath on account of how it insists it is acting in their name; yes, these are a socially enlightened left-leaning non-partisan people) Stella and Gerry decamp to Glasgow, where they spend the rest of their lives, she teaching in a comprehensive (English Lit of course) and he lecturing at the university (architecture), where he is well-liked and even respected, despite his indefatigable drinking, for he is an alcoholic, with all that that implies (forgetfulness, inattentiveness to personal hygiene, readiness to lie if needing a drink, et cetera). Midwinter Break actually starts long after all the above has happened, sometime on a melancholy January morning in the early twenty-first century in the Stella and Gerry’s nicely appointed Glasgow tenement flat. Now in late middle age, (or is it early old age?) comfortable, with disposable income, their son safely settled and married in Canada with one child, they are about to fly to Amsterdam for a winter break. Stella, having attended a teachers’ conference in the Dutch city sometime in the 1980s, is inclined, or so she says, to re-experience the city that she visited briefly and she has bought them tickets and booked a hotel for four nights as a Christmas present. And this is true but also not true, and over the four days of the Gilmores’ sojourn in Amsterdam, we discover everything. We discover their past (as described above); their present, fractious on account of Gerry’s drinking (he is a cunning, high-functioning, tireless alcoholic) and his relentless and hurtful denigration of her deep religious faith; and their future, or Stella’s idea of what their future might look like at any rate, which has something to do with Amsterdam and which, at a stroke, would take her away from Gerry and his boozing and allow her to serve God in a meaningful and productive way. But what is it they say about our fondest hopes? In the book’s coup de théâtre, Stella’s scheme comes awry (its undoing is one…

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