Boekverslag : Bernard Maclaverty - Cal
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1. About the book

Author: Bernard MacLaverty

Title: Cal

First published in 1983, by Jonathan Cape Ltd, London

Used copy: published in 1991 by Wolters-Noordhoff BV, Groningen

2. Dedication and motto

No dedication, no motto

3. My reading experience

Chapter three starts on page 57. While reading the book I’ve ‘met’ Cal, a nineteen-year-old boy (or perhaps it would be more apropriate to refer to Cal as a man, given the fact he’s 19), who lives with his old man in Ulster, Northern Ireland. Since Cal is unemployed (he worked at the slaughterhouse for a week but had to quit because ‘his stomach couldn’t take it’), he spends most of his time strumming his guitar, playing Stones tapes and cursing hinself in made up French. Cal and his father Shamie are Roman Catholics, who live in a Protestant hood. There they find themselves being terrorised and threatened by the crowd, who do not tolerate these Catholics to inhabit their ground. One day, when Cal pays the local library a visit, he notices a new woman behind the desk. One particular line in the book has gotten me fairly curious:

“He studied her face, trying to read into it whether or not she was the Marcella. He could not take his eyes offof her, not because of what she was but because of what he might have done to her.”

It makes me wonder: what has good and quiet Cal done to this lady?

Crilly, a lad from the hood who too is a Catholic, asks for Cal to drop by later that day. He’s needed as a driver on a ‘terrorising-event’. I don’t know what to make of this Crilly-person.

As the story carries on, Cal tries hard to get in contact with Marcella, determined to find out whether or not it is her. And, surprise surprise; he falls in love with the Italian beauty.

So far I find the book quite easy to read. Of course every now and then words hop along that make me think: “what the heck?!”, but I look them up in a dictionary and all is well again.

2. (pages 57 to 89, 2-10-00)

Somehow Cal has managed to get a job as a landworker on the farm where Marcella lives. He does his work well enough to make the boss give him a permanent job. Or actually it was Marcella’s mother in law (for Marcella is a widow, how convenient), that asks him to come and work for her on a permanent basis. Which, given the fact that Cal is a Catholic, is quite remarkable. All goes well for a while, until Cal and Shamie get burned out of there house.

Cal, who’s been saying he wants ‘out’ of Crilly’s deal, finds this to be a great opportunity; he’ll live in the cottage on Marcella’s grandparents land. They won’t know he’s there, neither will Crilly, he’ll have his own place to stay, it’ close to his job and best of all; close to Marcella.

It has now become clear what Cal has done to her; one night while driving for Crilly, Crilly shot Marcella’s husband. So in a way Cal is responsable for the death of Marcella’s man. He’s taking his thoughts back to that fateful day and remembers best how he felt after this all had taken place:

“He felt that he had a brand stamped in blood on the middle of his forehead which would take him the rest of his life to perge.”

3. (pages 90 to 154, 5-10-00)

The fact that Cal doesn’t come clean on what he has done, makes me sick. After a while Marcella’s family finds that he’s been living in their cottage, but when Cal explains that he and his old man got burned out of their own house and he had nowhere else to go, they forgive him and even offer him a stay in the cottage rent-free. They furnish and cleanup the place for him, and Marcella and Cal become goos friends. Toward the end of the book they even become lovers and share a night together. Soon after however Cal finds out that Crilly and his partner in crime, Skeffington, have been arrested. He figures it will only be a matter of hours before the police come for him. And he’s right:

“The next morning, Christmas Eve, almost as if he expected it, the police arrive to arrest him and he stood in a dead man’s Y-fronts (the clothes of Marcella’s late husband that she gave him) listening to the charge, grateful that at last someone was going to beat him within an inch of his life”.

And all I can say after this is: “man, what an anti-climax”.

4. Short summary

Cal and his father are the only Catholics living in a Protestant street. He falls in love with a librarian, and after all sorts of events they become lovers. But not for long, because Cal’s past will eventually catch up with him…

5. The author

Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast in 1942. As a young boy he grew up with the terrible awareness of what it was like to live in Ulster. His wife grew up in the borderdistrict in the south of Country Derry, between Ulster and the Irish republic, the area where ‘Cal’ is situated.

In 1977 MacLaverty published his first book, Secrets and other stories. ‘Cal’ has been made in a tv film, as have many other of his short stories.

6. Secundary literature

In the back of this bookreport.

7. How I liked the book

I have mixed feelings about this one. I liked Cal because he was very introvert and I’m sure that deep down inside he’s a good guy, after all he did want out. But the fact that he helped kill (even though he was only the driver) a man and then falls in love with and becomes obsessed by his wife, is a bit strange. He thinks it right to build up a relationship with the woman he helped make a widow, even go to bed with her, but not tell her the truth about what he has done. It makes him a weakling. The story itself is a bit… unbelievable if that is the right word. It takes a few turns that are less imaginable, on the other hand it makes the book a bit unpredictable and that’s always good (to me, anyways). I already stated my mixed feelings about Cal above. Bernard MacLaverty has gotten to me though with this novel. Even if it were only the fact that he got me thinking about Northern Ireland. It’s just too stupid for words what is and has been going on isn’t it? All those people killed ‘in the name of God’… Such hatred between people just because of different religions, ignorance and intolerance… What strikes me most is that the belief in a God has led to such hatred. Because do they even realize that Protestans and Catholics that both their religions evolve around the one and same God? And wasn’t it Jesus, that preached violence not to be the answer? I am an unreligious person, so me it seems all the more ignorant. But I guess I’d have to be an insider to give my vision on what’s been going on in Northern Ireland. And I don’t know much, I don’t even know where the IRA fits in. I’ll have to be more informed, but I’ll save that for a later date. I was talking about the book.

Right, the book. I didn’t particularly like it. But it has gotten to me and that’s what really matters…

9. Acknowledging references

1. ‘Depressive Realism’: an Irish story (David Lodge, the Sunday Times, 16-1-83)

2. ‘Guilt and Penance in Northern Ireland’ (Michael Gorra, New York Times, 21-8-83)

3. ‘Under Threat’ (Frank Tuohy, Times, 14-1-83)
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