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  • Cal
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on 4 March 2018
The mid 70's to early 80's was a time fraught with danger in Northern Ireland. As an expat living and working in England I am well versed to understand the mindset of the various embattled groups that continued to carry on a war of attrition not only against the so called enemy (police and army) but equally against each other and if you happened to be of the wrong religion residing in the perceived wrong locality intimidation was an everyday occurrence.

Cal McCluskey and his dad were a catholic family living in a predominately protestant locality...."he could not bear to look up and see the flutter of Union Jacks, and now the red and white cross of the Ulster flag with it red hand.".... Cal was often the target of insults, taunting, and intimidation, but he tried to ignore, picking up his Giro on a regular basis and hanging around street corners, ripe pickings for paramilitary scouts. So he helped with the "cause" and when needed would act as a driver for his fellow republicans Crilly and Skeffington. With so much free time, and little hope of a job in this divided land, he was often to be seen perusing books and cassettes in the local library where one day he notices a new woman behind the counter. What follows is a beautifully written story of a love affair that is doomed to failure from the start. Cal holds a secret that if revealed to Marcella would end their relationship as he is torn between loyalties to his friends and honesty to his lover.

The language and descriptive prose of the author reminded me of the many years I lived in a country riddled with hypocrisy and bigotry....."the weight and darkness of Protestant Ulster, with its neat stifled Sabbath towns.".... "people were dying everyday, men and women were being crippled and turned into vegetables in the name of Ireland. An Ireland which never was and never would be."....."I like the look of Donegal where nothing grows. Beaches, bogs and mountains."......"The parade led by Evangelists screaming about sin and death and damnation."....

The ending when it happens is unexpected and sudden in its execution and brutality but I felt that it suited so well the time and events in such a deeply divided community. Highly Recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 22 June 2014
The elements that deal with ordinary life in the Troubles are convincing and make this a worthwhile insight. It should be good as Mr MacLaverty has the personal experience to draw on. A very good description of working class life. Think 'Kes' but without the AK47s.

There are some moments of jaw-dropping, jet-black humour as Cal waits each night to be fire-bombed out of his home. The effect on the community and Cal's familiy of all the violence and hatred is chillingly effective including a memorable line about Cal's father turning from iron into plasticine There are many moral questions implicit in all the Troubles stuff but in this short book it is often easier not to dwell.

Unfortunately, the 'love story' elements just don't ring true. Another reviewer described them as 'toe-curling' which is not far off the mark. As a result, I liked the book but I didn't believe in it.
4 people found this helpful
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on 24 March 2018
Compulsively readable as ever with MacLaverty. Underneath the deceptively simple language is a profound meaning and truth. The characterisation rings true and you can smell the atmosphere of the troubles on every page. Highly recommended.
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on 20 February 2012
On being set the book Cal by my uni lecturer I thought, oh god, not again!!! I had read it many years ago at school and didn't relish the prospect of doing it again!! The only upside for me was at least i could rely on Amazon having it at a good price. When I received Cal I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly I got into the storyline again, Bernard Maclaverty brings to life the troubles in Ireland and the characters jump off the page, almost as if you are there beside them. There are tender moments between the two main characters and you will everything to end well, but will it? Well you have to buy the book to find out, I promise you it is worth it.
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on 12 November 2014
A brilliant book. Bought it after reading an extract in a creative writing workbook. It shows a lot of the confusion and problems of wrestling with loyalty in the times of the troubles. From this very personal story we can get a real sense of how it all affected normal people, and a sense of national from individual. A love story and a political window. Also, as it is set a few decades ago it's quite nostalgic.
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on 4 October 2015
Cal is the story of a young man caught between the two sides in the long conflict between the IRA and the British in the control of Ulster. Having helped in an assassination of a policeman,
he falls in love with the man's widow. The resulting confusion and anguish are central to the book in which the characters are described in exquisite detail, painting an authentic picture of life in South Armagh at that terrible time
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on 10 February 2018
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on 11 September 2017
Really enjoyed this book.p
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on 10 November 2016
Great book, beautifully written.
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on 9 February 2015
Needed for a college project and was a great read. Passed my exam with it so highly recommend
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