Bernard Mac Laverty was in Belfast in 1942. He studied English
literature at Queen’s University. He has worked as a medical laboratory
assistant and as a teacher in Scotland. He is now a full-time writer,
living in Glasgow with his wife and four children.
He has been awarded several prizes for his literature. In 1980
"Lamb", his first novel, was published. "Cal" was published in 1983. He
has also published three collections of short stories: "Secrets and
Stories", A Time to Dance, The Great Profundo and Other Stories. Both
his novels have been made into successful films, and some stories have
adapted for TV and radio. His writings often consist of a father-son
relationship where the mother is not present.
The setting of Cal is rather vague, with the exception that it
takes place in Northern Ireland in the late 1970s. The story takes place
at various locations surrounding a nameless country town. I believe the
books starts during summer and ends around Christmas, a time of hope.
Most of the book takes place during the fall. A time where much
life withers away, the days get darker and the weather worsens. This is
how Cal and Catholics in Nothern Ireland feel and treated. A Catholic’s
life is often not worth as much as a Protestant’s.
The book is told in the past tense, but moves forward in time.
Often we are given flashbacks of acts that have been committed before.
These flashbacks are used to gradually give the reader a better
understanding of the story. In my opinion, the most important flashback
doesn’t arrive until after more than half of the book has been read. In
this flashback we are then told about how Cal came about helping to kill
Marcellas husband. As a conclusion, flashbacks are very important to the
The plot of the book is Cal’s relationship to the IRA, him being
a Catholic and the difficulties this has brought him. Around this main
plot there are several sub-plots.
The main plot tells the story of Cal in different situations. He
is trying to break up his ties with the IRA, but finds this difficult as
he knows to much, and would be a risk if set free. He also has problems
with protestants. Cal would also like to be freed from then, but the
Protestants could mot accept his freedom.
All plots are concentrated around what Cal and Crilly did a year
ago: kill Marcella’s husband. This explains his strained relationship
to his father; he finds it difficult to accept his deeds and would like
to be alone. To find relief he seeks out Marcella, but hesitates to
tell her what he did.
The subplots are mainly about Cal’s relationships to other people;
his father, Marcella, and his IRA friends. Cal’s mother died when he was
young, and has never really experienced being loved by a female. This
could be a reason for him building a relationship with Marcella (besides
from his remorse).
The climax is in many senses an anti-climax. It arrives in the
absolute last line of the book. It’s Christmas, everyone is happy, Cal
and Marcella are doing well together. Then. The police arrives, and all
hopes of a peaceful future are shattered.
Cal is the story’s protagonist. Although there are rather dark
sides of his character, one could still call him the hero; he tries all
he can to help his father after the fire, he tries to help Marcella
after killing her husband, he becomes a father figure for Marcella’s
daughter. Cal is the most developed character in the book. He loves
his parents, hates the IRA (after first working for them), anger towards
the local Protestants, and so on.
Many of the other characters are rather one dimensional.
Skeffington and Crilly are rather crude in their behavior to Cal when he
decides to quit the IRA. To them all the Protestants do is wrong, while
they are always right. Crilly in particular feels no need to feel sorrow
for his dirty deeds. They are in many ways the antagonists, together
with Cal’s fight to become a better person.
Marcella is the leading female charcter of the book. She has the
biggest chance to prove that she is more than a one dimensional
charcter. She is Italian and was married to a Protestant. Perhaps since
she in many ways is an outsider, she tries to behave properly to other
than the local Catholics.
The meaning of the story is to tell about how Catholics and
Protestants relate to each other in todays Northern Ireland. The ever
going conflict is told through the ways and actions of a young Irish
Catholic. If one looks away from its setting, the story could be said to
be about growing up in a ever more violent society. But the story is set
in Northern Ireland, which gives a deeper background to the story.
Sin is another theme. The Church and religion plays such an
important part of the Irish way of life. Therefore Cal must find
forgiveness from Marcella, or he will forever damned for his mortal sin.
The Church in this story plays a binder for Cal and Marcella’s
relationship; it is first in church that he dares to become more closely
attached to her.
Did I learn anything from the story? Well, I got to a bit better
how the ordinary Irishman lives from day to day. I guess I had a picture
of a much more violent Northern Ireland before reading the book. This
picture has been painted by newspapers, TV, schoolbooks and others. But
this is the first time I’ve really been told an Irishman’s point of view
told by an Irishman. It was in many ways interesting.