Bernard Mac Laverty

The Author

Cal was written by Bernard Mac Laverty. It was first published by Jonathan Cape in 1983. Bernard Mac Laverty was born in Belfast, where he worked for ten years as a medical laboratory technician before studying English at Queen’ s University. He then moved to Scotland and taught for a number of years. He now writes full - time and lives in Glasgow. He has written three novels "Lamb", "Cal" (both of which have been made into successful films) and most recently, "Grace Notes". He is also the author of four collections of short stories: "Secrets", "A Time to Dance", "The Great Profundo" and "Walking the Dog".

The Story

Cal, he is 19 years old, and his father live in a Protestant estate in Ulster but they are Catholic. They are the only Catholic family there. Cal’ s father Shamie McCluskey works at the abattoir. Other Catholics moved before but Shamie is stubborn and wants to stay. He always says: " No Loyalist bastard is going to force me out of my home. They can kill me first." Cal is worried. He also doesn’t fear a single bastard, a Protestant, but an accumulation of them. Only two of their near neighbours would stand by them if something would happen like an eviction. Cal gave up his job at the abattoir because he hadn’t a strong enough stomach. So Crilly got the job and Shamie is embarrassed about this. Now Cal is unemployed.
One day the boy walks to the library. Cal finds it a good place to pass some of the time. But today he sees a new woman behind the counter. She is small and dark - haired and she looks foreign. Cal associates her with France. He also can’t guess her age. She isn’t very young, maybe in her late twenties. Her name is Marcella. When Cal is at home he gets more and more fascinated of her and his curiosity grows. So he goes back and borrows a Blues tape just to see her again. But there he notices a gold ring on her wedding finger and leaves.
Some days later Cal takes Shamie’ s van and drives to Crilly. Also Finbar Skeffington is there. They talk about the fact that they are losing too many good people and so they ask Cal to be the new driver. But Cal wants to get out and explains that he will drive the last time.
On Friday Cal waits for Marcella. She appears with a large cardboard box of groceries and as a carton of salt falls down Cal picks it up for her an d carries the box to her car.
This night he gets a warning letter. It says that they shell leave or they will be burnt out. He wakes his father to show him the note and Shamie takes out a gun. Once he got it from Crilly when the first threat had been posted the same way. Some weeks later Crilly asked them if they would do him a favour. Since that day he hides occasionally stuff in their roof space and a couple of days later it would be taken away again. And then Cal had to run Crilly in the van. They moved something from one house to another. Cal was worried but he didn’t tell anyone. One night the Army stopped the van. Both had to give their names and addresses and they searched the van. They couldn’t find anything because half an hour ago they had unloaded it.
Late in the night they make tea and talk about Cal and to find a job for him. But then Shamie thinks about moving away. They can’t find a answer and so he asks his son how old he was when his mother died. When the boy says "eight" the old man gets into his bed again. On the next morning Cal goes to church where he meets Marcella. She has a little girl with her. He is surprised because he had not thought of her as a Catholic. The family of her husband, Robert Morton, had been Protestant farmers for centuries. The next week a friend of Shamie’ s asks him to help him with a couple of dead trees. So Cal and his father buy one, cut it down and split it. Then the boy drives to the Morton’s and sells them. After doing this job he leaves the lorry at the abattoir and walks home. On his way he makes three figures out he has seen outside his house. They stops in front of him. They are about Cal’ s age and he knows their faces but not their names. When they begin to fight Cal runs away. At home he realizes that there are some scratches on his face and both lips are beginning to swell. He spits blood and the knuckles of his hands are bleeding. So Cal asks his father about moving away but Shamie doesn’t give a real answer. He doesn’t want that the Protestants win.
On the next day Cal drives back to the Morton’s where he meet the girl from the church and Marcella. After he finishes he gets his money and a beer and Mrs Morton offers him a new job. They will lift potatoes on the next days and he can help if he wants. Cal accepts. After the three days of hard work Mrs Morton asks him to work on the farm and he accepts immediately again. His father is very enthusiastic when he hears about this new job but after having dinner Cal has to drive to Crilly. This guy plans to rob a shop. He has a gun for himself and for Cal but he refuses. Crilly is about two or three minutes in the shop but they can flee without anybody seeing them. Then they drive to Finbar Skeffington to count the money. They have seven hundred and twenty two pounds. Following this Skeffington tries to explain Cal why he can’t leave them. He mentions that Cal helps to keep the Brits in Ireland if he refuses to help Crilly and Finbar.
On Monday morning Cal starts to work on the farm. Cyril Dunlop, who also works there, explains the boy what he has to do. After some days of working Cal is really disappointed. He always hopes to see Marcella and eventually to speak with her. But he only sees her when she is on her way to the library and when she comes home. So he decides to go to the library. He talks a little with her, then borrows a book and leaves. When he is outside the library he gets aware of the blue pulse of a warning light and smoke. He sees a lot of people, a fire engine and a police car and then he realizes that it is his house. The firemen are pumping water through the window but it seems to be having no effect. Small explosions continues. Then Cal finds his father. He begins to cry when he sees that his son is not in the house. Shamie and Cal are at Dermon Ryan’s, one of Shamie’ s cousins, when the father tells the boy that he had taken out the gun and that it is still lying on the bedside table. So Cal explains the firemen that he must get his father’s blood - pressure tablets to get the gun. Back at Dermon’ s house Cal feels safe for the first time in years. Later Shamie tells him that Crilly wants to see him. So the boy asks his father to tell everybody that he left after the fire and that he doesn’t know where his son is. Mr McCluskey is afraid but he promises. On the next day at lunchtime Cal hides the gun in a derelict cottage near the Morton’s. Then he remembers a day almost a year ago: First he and Crilly drove to the town hall to a dance. After a lot of people had arrived they stole a car and drove to a big house with dogs. Crilly went in and Cal waited outside with the car running. Then a man opened the door and Crilly pulled the gun from his pocket and shot him twice in the chest. The man lay on the floor and called the name Marcella. Crilly fired a shot through his head and then three more shuts up the hallway. Then they left. After some kilometres they stopped near the hall and Crilly burnt the car. Cal went back to the dance. He drank some whiskey’s, danced a while and then went home.
One night Cal tiptoes to Marcella’s house and watches her while she is in the bathroom. He thinks of her being the only woman in the world who is forbidden him. He is in love with her but he had helped killing her husband. When he is back suddenly the room gets filled with a blue - white light and the door exploded open. Cal is kicked on the side of the head and falls back against the wall. A member of the Army asks him what he’s doing here. Then he explains that the Morton’s have called the Army. They ask him a lot of questions and bring him to Marcella and Mrs Morton. Cal fears they could find the gun but the drive away. After having a long conversation they decide that Cal can stay in the cottage and that he can fix the place up the best he can. On the next day he gets a bed, curtains, a lamp, some other things and clothes from Marcella’s dead husband. Now Cal and Marcella often meet. She gives him a lift for mass on Sundays and when she feels depressed she visits the boy to talk with him.
One day Cal decides to visit his father. But Shamie is terrible to look at. He had aged twenty years in a couple of weeks. He misses his house and his garden and he is depressed all the time. But not only he missed Cal. Also Crilly and Skeffington have asked for him. Days later Marcella and her daughter Lucy invite Cal to search for blackberries. They talk and joke and the happier Cal feels, the sadder he becomes. He wants to tell her the truth about her husband’s death but he can’t. While they are on their way home they hear an explosion. Cal runs to see what has happened. He sees a cow lying there and on a tree one of the Preacher’s red tin plaques where he always writes his famous sayings from the bible.
A few days later Cal visits Shamie again. He continues to be depressed and has stopped work. Most of the day he sits in the armchair smoking and staring through the window. After Cal had to duck into a garden to avoid meeting Crilly’ s mother he decides not to risk a visit for a while. Then one morning after Halloween Marcella tells him that her mother - in - law is going away for a week to Belfast because her granddad must have another operation on his lungs.
On the next day Cal is alone in the house. He walks up to Marcella’ s room. He looks for her underwear, he smells her perfume and he reads in her diary. When she and Lucy come home Marcella invites Cal to come for dinner. Meanwhile Cal buys a bottle of wine. He dresses in a clean shirt and chooses the best trousers and also Marcella is well dresses, her hair is different and she wears more make - up. After having dinner and drinking two bottles of wine they moved to the other room for coffee. Then suddenly Cal kisses her. But Marcella withdraws. She tells him not to be that childish and that he is her friend so he walks to the next pub to drink. The next week it begins to snow. Cal didn’t see Marcella some days but now she stands in front of his door and wants to apologize. They drink tea with whiskey and after talking some time Cal kisses her again but now she doesn’t refuse. Then she takes her clothes off and goes to his bed. They have sex and as Cal asks her what will happen if she gets pregnant she answers that she used a diaphragm. She explains that she come to him hoping. They go inside the house and Marcella tells him that she didn’t really love Robert. On the next day Cal walks to town to do his Christmas shopping and to visit his father. At Dermon’ s no one is at home. When Shamie’ s cousin arrives he mentions that his father was put in for treatment. Cal walks to the library to wait for Marcella but she isn’t there. Instead of her he meets Crilly. He wants to bring Cal to Skeffington and although he knows that he shouldn’t go he finds himself sitting in Crilly’ s front room. Finbar Skeffington calls him a traitor and an informer and tells him that there is no way out of his situation. Suddenly the Army knocks on the door so that Finbar, Crilly and Cal must flee. But only Cal can escape. Then he informs the police that Crilly took a fire bomb in the library in a book called "Middlemarch". Now he really is an informer and traitor. On the way home he wonders if either Crilly or Skeffington will give the police his name. When he reaches the Morton’ s house he wants to tell Marcella all. Also that he saved the library but it would be to complicated. He can’t tell her anything. After spending the night with her he goes back to the cottage. The next morning, it is Christmas Eve, the police arrives to arrest him.



Cal is 19 years old. He listens to music of the Rolling Stones and he plays the guitar. He has long hair and tries to develop some female gestures. His hair hang like curtains on each side of his face. When he plays the guitar he shakes his head from side to side so that his hair will end up all over his face to screen him from the world. He leads a secluded life and so he bought a bolt to lock his bedroom and he always keeps the curtains shut even when it is day. He had learned a little bit French at school and so he often makes up phrases ho his own which are a mixture of French and English.
Cal’s mother died when he was 8 years old. Her name was Gracie. She had collapsed in her own kitchen with a brain haemorrhage. Cal always cried when he was alone and also now he can bring a lump to his throat if he wants by thinking of her. He often remembers her when she got the telegram which told her of the death of Brendan, Cal’ s elder brother. He mentions him only once in the whole story. We don’ t know how his relationship was to him.
Cal has no real friends. To keep contact with other people there are only his father, Crilly and Skeffington. His father works all day long, so he only sees him in the evening. Because of Cal’ s unemployment he often sits at home. He keeps a little bit the household and he cooks. His father Shamie tries to replace the mother but he failed. If he is out he meets Crilly or Skeffington. But this man isn’t also a very good company. Crilly obviously is a member of the IRA. He robs shops and he also kills people, like Marcella’ s husband.
It isn’t really described how Cal came into closer contact with Crilly but now Cal even drives the van for them. He did also this job when Mr Morton was killed. Crilly isn’t a friend of Cal. The young boy doesn’t like him and so he often tries to avoid to meet him but he seldom is successful. Cal is also afraid of Crilly and Skeffington. He wants to get out of these things but he isn’t allowed to do it. Skeffington always tells him that he must do something about the Protestant bastards and so Cal doesn’t know what to answer because he has a little bit of a bad conscience.


Marcella was the wife of Robert Morton who was killed by Crilly while Cal sat in front of the house in the car waiting for him. Marcella is of an Italian family. They had sent her to the nuns at Portstewart Content for her education. Now she is about thirty years and she has a daughter called Lucy. In the last few years of her marriage Marcella and Robert found out that they didn’t love each other any longer. Now Marcella also isn’t sure if she liked him at all. He was witty and intelligent but you couldn’t believe a simple word he said. He told lies and he hand two or three affairs.
After the death of her husband she lives with her daughter and her parents - in - law in their house. She works at the library to get out of the house. Her father - in - law is ill and coughs all day long and she hates watching people suffer. She gets annoyed with them. And also her husband’ s mother is ill. She’s got Parkinson’ s disease. Now it’s not too bad but it will get worse and everyone knows it. It’s a great pity for the old people because Robert was their only child. So Marcella often feels responsible for them and she fells guilty when she thinks about moving away.
When Marcella is out of the house she is cheerful and she is in a good mood. But when she is with her parents - in - law it is the other way round.
First she doesn’t interest for Cal and when she realizes that she fells something for him she tries to suppress these feelings. She doesn’t want that anybody could speak about her and the 19 - year - old boy. She is afraid of the people’ s reaction. But she isn’t successful and so she admits defeat.

Cal’ s father

Shamie McCluskey works at the abattoir. His wife died years ago and since this time he lives alone with his son Cal. His other son died in a car crash.
Shamie always tries to replace Cal’ s mother but he fails. Since Gracie died Shamie has a problem with love and sex. He never found another woman and when something to do with love - making comes on television he either leaves the room or hides behind his newspaper.
He is really stubborn because he wants to stay where he lived the last few years. But they are the only Catholic family there. It is very dangerous for them. They got two warning letters and so Sahmie took the gun which Crilly has offered to him. After their house had been burned down by some Protestant guys Sahmie can stay with a relative of him. But after some time he really gets depressed. He wants his house and his garden back. Shamie’ s health gets worse but he doesn’t want so see the doctor. He also refuses to go to work.
The relationship between Cal and his father was never good. They often quarrelled and from the age of fourteen onwards Cal had been constantly at war with Shamie. If Shamie didn’t know how to solve a problem he always mentioned his wife and so he made Cal cry.
But now at the beginning of the book it seems that their relationship gets better.


Crilly had been in school with Cal and in one year they had been in the same class together. He is a big lad for his age with large ears. Once somebody had said that he had ears like taxi doors so Crilly beat him up. Crilly has no compunction about beating somebody up. Cal thought very early that it was wise to be on the right side of him because Crilly could be nasty when he wanted. And with this tactics of intimidation he "convinced" Cal to join his group and also in this way he forces him to stay there. Crilly never hurt Cal or did something like that but he knows that Cal is afraid of him and he exploits this fact without any scruple. He also doesn’t shrink from robbing a shop or even from killing a person. He is an unscrupulous man who obviously is a member of the IRA.


And there is also Finbar Skeffington. He is more a partner than a friend of Crilly. He never commits a crime by himself. For this job he has Crilly. Skeffington is only the person behind the scenes. He is about thirty to forty years old and he is always well dressed. He has the same ability to bully other people like Crillly.

One Point Out Of The Story / Interpretation
I think the main parts in this story are the fights and the hate between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and how easily people get involved in these fights like it happed to Cal.
At the beginning it isn’t really described what Cal does in his spare time and you don’t realize it while you begin to read the book. But then you see it more clearly every time something happens. First of all Cal doesn’t to deal with Crilly’ s business so he even doesn’t care with the stuff Crilly hides in their roof space. But then he has to drive the van whenever Crilly has to do some "trades". But these trades aren’t harmless. First he only robs shops and smuggles a little bit but then Crilly also kills a person. And although Cal has a bad conscious and although he constantly sees the pictures of Crilly killing Marcella’ s husband he first doesn’t try to do anything about it. But after some time he gets afraid of his "partner" and of Skeffington and so he decides to leave them. But that intention isn’t as simple as he had thought. When Skeffington hears Cal’ s plan of getting out of the group he first tries to convince him to stay by telling him: "Not to act is to act. By not doing anything you are helping to keep the Brits here." But when he realizes that these words doesn’t bother Cal he tries to frighten him by telling the young boy that it is not a game they are playing and because of this fact the price of getting out is staying in and that he has no chance to refuse.
So Cal’ s only way to escape is to hide at the Morton’s farm. We see how easy it is to get in such a group and it is hardy possible to get out.
For the youth in Northern Ireland it is difficult not to get involved in this bloody and violent war between the Protestants and the Catholics. They learn from their parents that the other people are the bed ones and that they must do and try everything to destroy the others even if violence in necessary.
But how will this end?
First of all people must realize that violence is the wrong way to solve problems. They must find a peaceful way to communicate. And they must keep their children out of this fight. The children are always the victims but only because the grown - ups don’t want to see that their way of solving problems is the wrong one. If they don’t change their attitudes towards their fights and their hate there hardly won’t be a new and peaceful solution.

Bernard Mac Laverty describes to situation of young people in Northern Ireland. "Cal" is not only a story of a young man between two parties who just want to be left in peace. Coming our of the fear and violence of Northern Ireland, Cal is a sad love story in a country where tenderness and innocence can only exist briefly in the dark.

My Opinion
I like this book very much. It is not a book which you read for joy and when you have finished it you put it away. "Cal" fascinated me. After reading it I was fascinated and shocked at the same time and I thought a long time about Cal’ s destiny. The author knows how to increase the tension and with the help of an open end of this story he asks the reader to have a critical look at the conflict.
I followed the story with great interest because of this I could learn a lot about the characters. The flashback scenes are very important for me to understand Cal. I see why it was so difficult for him to live his own life.
Bernard Mac Laverty’ s novel "Cal" is a remarkable story of a doomed love affair and it described the impossibility of living under such circumstances.

4231 Worte in "deutsch"  als "hilfreich"  bewertet