Cal by Bernard MacLaverty tells us the tragic story about a young, unemployed Catholic named Cal Maclusky. He lives in Northern Ireland in an ulster where mostly Protestants live and is the son of a stubborn widowed abattoir man who refuses to leave his home even though their house had been firebomb threatened several times. Cal’s life is tough and trouble always seems to find him, his mother died when he was eight, Protestants give him a hard time and as if that wasn’t enough his friend from school a bully named Crilly has dragged Cal into an organization called the IRA where Cal are forced to take part in dangerous IRA activity.
To make matters worse Cal finds himself falling in love with a widowed women named Marcella, whose husband was killed by the IRA, a dirty murder in which Cal had participated. All though it wasn’t him who had shot her husband he still felt guilty. The main characters are Cal, Marcella, Cal’s father and Crilly. Cal lacks confidence, is rather depressed, unhappy and has a lot of self-hatred. He has all the needed qualities of being the main character in a tragedy. Cal is the kind of character one would sympathize with and feel sorry for even though he has committed a few mistakes.
Every tragedy must have a sad love story and that is why I believe MacLaverty created this character, a forgiving and loving widowed wife who has experienced adversity but hasn’t lost her hope in life. With her she has her young daughter Lucky who she is very protective of. Cal’s father is a stubborn but loving man. He refuses to leave his home even after being threatened. He loves his son but isn’t very keen on showing emotions. Every story must have a “bad guy” and in this novel Crilly is the one who creates some of the trouble for Cal.
Crilly is a fearless and merciless bully who works for the IRA and who puts Cal I difficulties like making him his driver while he is on a mission to murder somebody. The story is very believable and without knowing much about the background one would reasonably assume that the novel is based on a true story. It mainly addresses the complexity of being caught in cultural hubris. It also has an underlying meaning which I believe is to show us how the life of a minority among hostile and aggressive people is.
Cal’s life is a struggle and will be until he has taken his last breath. I truly would recommend this story even though it is very sad, but I would also recommend that you reference the IRA as part of ongoing Irish history, which will help your understanding of the novel and what Cal is really going through. Sure the story is rather predictable and we get answers to a lot of our immediate questions, but even when things are revealed there are still surprises and things withheld in meaningful ways. MacLaverty is indeed a great author, with a huge talent.