Radio review: Hearing the distinct voice of Bernard MacLaverty

Nuala McCann

Free Thinking Radio 3

It is hard to believe that writer Bernard MacLaverty left Northern Ireland in 1975 to take up a job and raise his family in Scotland.

His is a voice that is so distinctively from here. His stories stretching back down the years can be poignant and heart breaking but are also at times distinctive of a time and place and often funny.

He has not lost the true sense of who he is; his accent; his warmth; his sincerity.

The beauty of Radio 3's Free Thinking programme is that there is space for a meaningful conversation.

It has a slow, thoughtful, measured pace.

Anne McElvoy makes an art of knowing her subject and asking searching questions.

This is no soundbite city.

MacLaverty's novel Midwinter Break has occupied the writer for the last 15 years, he confessed.

The themes are religion, lack of religion, war and the terrible things that people do to each other.

The story sounds simple.

A long married couple take a long weekend in the winter to Amsterdam – a Midwinter Break.

This is a couple who are quietly deeply disappointed - a man, drinking himself to death, his wife turning to religion.

They are survivors of a troubled past – they are haunted by it.

“My life has been informed by what happened during that 30 years war,” MacLaverty said of the Troubles. He may have moved away but he carried his past with him.

It is, said McElvoy wisely, “the sediment of experience that never goes away”.

Midwinter Break featured as Book of the Week, Radio 4, recently. If, like me, you missed it, pick up on this Radio 3 interview or request a copy for Christmas and look forward to what promises to be a wonderful read.

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