I was interested in this title because I remembered enjoying an earlier Bernard MacLaverty novel, Grace Notes, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1997.
The story is a simple one to explain. Gerry and Stella are a retired couple living in Glasgow who take a winter holiday to Amsterdam. Gerry, an architect, drinks too much, and Stella, who is a devout Catholic, is tired of it and is considering joining a women’s colony in Amsterdam to live her life in contemplation and prayer.
The book covers their several days in Amsterdam, but virtually every minor event on the trip triggers a memory for one or the other, and most of the book is Gerry’s and Stella’s recall of the decades of their lives together.
But frankly, that’s not really enough to sustain my interest in these two people. Gerry’s an obnoxious drunk and Stella’s bitter, sanctimonious, and sarcastic. And repeat. And repeat.
Compared to Grace Notes, this novel doesn’t stack up, I’m afraid. There is some interesting examination of memory and the way those memories become a patchwork of our stories, but beyond that, there’s not much to hold on to, unfortunately. MacLaverty is a nice stylist and I think you should give him a try, but I’d point you to his Booker Prize shortlisted title instead.