Cal (novel)

Cal (novel)

"Cal" is a 1983 novel by Bernard MacLaverty, detailing the experiences of a young Irish Catholic named Cal, who is involved with the IRA.

Plot summary

One of the major themes of the novel is the way in which Cal attempts to come to terms with taking part in the murder of a reserve police officer by his friend Crilly, an operation for which he was the getaway driver, while at the same time trying to fend off the murderous anti-Republican "Orangemen". Making things even worse, Cal finds himself falling in love with the slain man's wife, Marcella.

One of the notable characteristics of this novel is that it has five chapters, similar to traditional tragedies, including that of Romeo and Juliet. This is because the story of Cal is in itself, tragic, as his downfall is due in large part to his own choices and mistakes, although the story itself would not be classified as a tragedy.

Cal has a lack of self-esteem, one source of which is the death of his mother, who held him in high regard - following her death, Cal seems to be only capable of thinking of himself in a bad light. Another factor adding to Cal's initial unhappiness is being a Catholic on a mainly Protestant estate and being part of the minority in Northern Ireland.

He has a fear of Crilly, his friend and bully from school, who works for the IRA and uses Cal as a driver. Cal chooses not to follow his father's line of work as he cannot stand the smell of the abattoir. This contributes to, in the general opinion, his feeling of weakness and inferiority.

Cal's self-hatred and depression manifest in a number of ways, swearing at himself "You big crotte de chien", hatred of his name, even a desire not see himself in the mirror. When seeing Marcella with her daughter Lucy, he feels loathing of his self, believing that this bond between mother and daughter is a "pure love" that he is not worthy of intruding upon, or even observing. Yet another manifestation of his feelings about the person he is in a form of self injury through biting at himself.

Cal's self-hatred is intensified by his feelings of guilt, even sickness, at the part he played in the murder, describing it as "a brand stamped in blood in the middle of his forehead which would take him the rest of his life to purge". As his love for Marcella grows, so too does his guilt. From this he develops a sense of acceptance at his arrest and brutal treatment, grateful that at last someone was going to beat him "within an inch of his life”, giving him the ability to feel able to repent for his sin and allows the mental anguish within to be transformed into a physical act that he can more readily deal with.

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