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on 13 July 2013
First published in 1983 this novel, set in Northern Ireland, outside Belfast, is almost historical. Taking place during 'the troubles' and before the 'peace process' this is the story of Cal a nineteen year old unemployed youth, unemployed because he couldn't stomach the job his father got him in the local abbatoir. Cal and his father are the last Catholic family on a Protestant housing estate and are being victimised. Without condoning the violence, the reader begins to understand how a person could get wrapped up in the religious bigotry surrounding them, sympathises with Cal's boredom, his bullying colleagues and his life-long fears.

He washed his hair while sitting in the bath, pouring jugfuls of water over his head. With his eyes closed against soap and cascading water he felt very vulnerable. What if someone were to burst into the bathroom now? How easy a target he would be, stark naked, blinded, groping with outstretched arms for a towel. It was a feeling he had had ever since childhood.

Will Cal get more wrapped up in the troubles? Will he and his father be forced to leave the estate? The biggest question comes from Cal's total infatuation with Marcela the local librarian. Will they eventually get together and, what is the reason that Cal finds it so dangerous to be near her? Compare this novel with the worse poverty of, turn of the century Dublin in Roddy Doyle's "A Star Called Henry"
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on 15 January 2011
Bernard MacLaverty has not written anything like as many books as he might have. Since Lamb in 1980 he has produced just three more novels of which 'Cal' was the second. This is a great pity as Northern Ireland and specifically 'the troubles' need good works of literature to help us understand them. It has often been said that conventional history books are all well and good but if you really want the 'truth', if you really want to understand why people feel and behave the way they do you need fiction to guide you. Good authors delve deep into the human soul and expose things that historians never can. MacLaverty is one such author. Through his eponymous hero he shows us what it actually feels like to live in a street where all your neighbours despise you just because of where you go to Church. The shattered shell of a man that Cal's previously strong and proud father becomes after years of harassment is truly tragic and a direct consequence of Northern Ireland's 'troubles'.

Similarly MacLaverty explores how it feels to live your life knowing every day that you have done something truly terrible. Cal can never escape what he has done. His guilt grows with him until finally he seeks and finds the punishment he feels he deserves. Alongside this MacLaverty gives us a simple but moving love story from the perspective of a young man with all the passion, frustration and animal lust that come with it.

'Cal' is not a perfect book, like most novels about Northern Ireland there is over-simplification of politics at times and the pace of the story falters a little in the middle. It is however, worthily conceived and skilfully executed. Both a good introduction to the Northern Ireland of the nineteen-eighties and an engagingly tragic love story in its own right.
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on 9 December 2009
This is just the most amazing book.
I suspect like many others I was jaundiced at reading/hearing so much about the troubles in Northern Ireland while they were at their worst and I thought I couldn't read anything new about them. I suspect my feelings were mostly because of frustration that I was impotent to do anything about the problems as the politicians also seemed to be at the time. I didn't think that any book which covers the subject could be so totally absorbing. This book cleverly shows that people living in Northern Ireland probably didn't have choices. They pretty well had to go along with one side or the other. Sitting on the fence would have been a very dangerous place to be.

Bernard McLafferty has written a tour de force in this book in so many ways. It's an extraordinarly gripping read telling the story of a lad who didn't want to get sucked in. Poignant. This was required reading for a course and I am so glad it was.
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on 30 December 2009
Given that later on MacLaverty matured into the master he now is, perhaps we can forgive him for the way in which he chose to conclude "Cal", with a third-rate love story ending that makes one's toes curl in embarrassment.

The shame is that the first three-quarters of "Cal" is MacLaverty at his best, with the skill to let you, the reader, work out what's going on, rather than tell you. This could have been the great "novel of the Troubles" if he had spent more time on the ending, and been more courageous about finishing it.

If this is your first experience of MacLaverty don't be put off. Move on to his short stories, such as "Matters of Life and Death". He's become one of the best living writers, anywhere.
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on 17 October 2000
Set in war-torn Northern Ireland in a hard-pressed Protestant district, MacLaverty's Cal mixes the somehow predictable love affair between representatives of opposing sides with the tragedy of the political situation. Though some simplification in the development of the content might cause reserve with the trained reader, the author does succeed both in keeping the outward tension going as well as in building up acceptably to the inevitability of making the best of both worlds.
From ample (classroom) experience, I hold the view that any reader can benefit by this short novel, which draws from the author's authentic experience. Cal deserves a place alongside with other works dealing with inevitably continuing conflict where prejudice leaves an unbridgeable social and emotional gap. A most satisfactory read, and an early promise of such top-quality successors as Grace Notes. (Not untypically, the quality of the book exceeds the one of the film by far.)
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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.
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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 11 October 2016
Enjoyed book but bewildered by ending. Also didn't realise it was such a short book. Fairly good storyline., no happy ending. 😢
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on 27 May 2004
I first read Cal doing my higher English and found it a powerful peace of writing. Cal is a very dark novel. It is set in the early 80s, and is about a young man who gets heavly involved with the IRA, and is trying to deal with what he has done, while being involved (which I will not tell you because it will spoil the plot!) Bernard Mac Laverty has done a excellent job in showing the reader the troubles in Northen Irland without taking sides, and telling us the story of how these times affect normal people. This book would have got 5 stars, but I found it a bit slow at times.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 16 October 2014
MacLaverty has managed to write a moving love story about a guy who gets embroiled with terrorism – quite a mean feat -- but he pulls it off with great aplomb.
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