by Bernard MacLaverty; W.W. Nor­ton (243 pages, $24.95)


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.

Gerry is a drinker. He plans ahead to make sure he has whiskey, stashes bot­tles in clever hid­ing spots, puts a wash­cloth un­der his glass to muf­fle the noise, runs wa­ter in the bath­room to con­ceal the sound of clink­ing ice.

The devoutly Catholic Stella is not fooled, but she’s been mar­ried too long and is too weary to chal­lenge him. Plus, she has her own

agenda, as this quiet story slowly re­veals.

In Am­s­ter­dam, they walk the city, see the sights, tour the Anne Frank house and the red light district, stop in Ir­ish pubs “for a drinky­poo,” Gerry says. 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: “She car­ried her wash­bag into the bath­room. Gerry could see her re­flected in a mir­ror op­po­site the door­way. She tore off the pleated pa­per from a bar of soap and in­haled it. ‘I’ll have the lux­ury of a bath or two in here,’ she shouted. She took out her plas­tic bag of creams and tubes and ar­ti­fi­cial tears and set them on a ledge.”

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 (“The canal wa­ter dark­ened here and there un­der the wind, like a fin­ger across suede”) and the poignancy of his story fills the reader with yearn­ing. The book ends in a snow­storm that evokes James Joyce’s “The Dead.” It might seem con­trived from a lesser writer, but in this case it feels just right.

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