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Comment: This item is in good condition. All pages and covers are readable. There are no stains or tears. Dust jacket is present if applicable. May contain small amounts of writing and/or highlighting. Spine and cover may show signs of wear. May not contain supplementary items. We ship within 1 business day. Big Hearted Books shares its profits with schools, churches and non-profit groups throughout New England. Thank you for your support!
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Cal: A Novel Paperback – April 17, 1995

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

First published in 1983, this lyrical novel, superficially straightforward but full of stories within stories, first brought Bernard MacLaverty's work to public attention. In the novel, a young Irish Republican Army operative who wants to break the cycle of violence seeks out a woman whose Ulster policeman husband he helped to murder. As their relationship grows, so do Cal's guilt and sorrow, until, in the end, he is forced to make a sacrifice of himself in order to gain redemption. Rich in ideas and history, this book helps us understand the situation in Northern Ireland--which "is not just there," MacLaverty has remarked, "as a colorful background."

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“It is a work in the classical tradition of the novel; and it has all the beauty and moral seriousness of the form at its best.” (Allan Massie)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 153 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1st Norton pbk. ed edition (April 17, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393313328
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393313321
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,132 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By William Sugarman on June 28, 2001
Format: Paperback
I've had this book on my shelves for almost fifteen years, if you can believe it, but never got around to reading it until this week. Now I can't figure out why it took me so long to open it.
"Cal" describes the "troubles" in Northern Ireland in a simple yet elegant manner, with a bare minimum of explicit violence and gore. Most of the violence is implied - the two exceptions being the story of how Marcella Morton became a widow, and what at first glance seems to be a rather pointless episode concerning a land mine and a cow. It seemed pointless, that is, until you read further and discovered exactly how the land mine came to be there.
While the violence is at a minimum, the thoughts, feelings, and philosophies of each side are explored quite thoroughly for such a small book. And while I personally found both points of view quite repellent, I will say that I believed that the characters in this book had these beliefs, and that they were extremely passionate regarding them.
The book is also an interesting psychological study, at least as far as Cal McCluskey (the main character) is concerned. With the help of Marcella, the woman he comes to love, it seems that he is growing up, and coming to realize that there's a lot more out in the world than just Catholics & Protestants fighting and killing each other - but his past will ultimately work against him and nullify all the good that Marcella has done for him - because he was the driver of the car containing the man that killed her husband.
A touching, sad, and very important book.
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"Cal" is a hard-hitting, compassionate story about a young Catholic man caught up in the sectarian strife of Northern Ireland in the 1970s. It's a good psychological study of 19-year-old Cal, whose nauseous reaction to a brief stint working at an abattoir mirrors his increasing repulsion at the help he gives the Irish Republican Army with some of its terrorist operations. Cal regrets his participation but is hemmed in by the intimidation of colleagues who keep dragging him back into the fight. Alert: plot points ahead.

Cal and his father have experienced ongoing harassment as the only two Catholics living in their neighborhood and they are eventually bombed out of their home. Bereft of his few possessions and alienated from his mates, Cal finds work in the country and embarks on an obsessive affair with a young widow whose husband he helped to kill. The affair with the lonely widow further plays on Cal's guilt so that when the final climax is reached, well, you'll find out!

I was moved by Cal's dilemma. MacLaverty is good at conveying the poverty and desperation of his circumstances. Cal lost his mother as a child. He and his da are barely scraping by. He hasn't felt safe at night or had a good night's sleep in years because of all the threats and violence in his neighborhood. At 19, he's a seriously burned out kid. I was more troubled by his stalking of the widow. Men finding expiation for their misdeeds by having sex with the women they've victimized and calling it love has become a common trope of a lot of tough guy writing. Chuck Hogan's Prince of Thieves: A Novel (made into the Ben Affleck film "The Town") comes to mind. It is apparently a common male fantasy.
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By A Customer on May 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book sat on my bookshelf for 10 years before I finally read it--I'd picked it up in a book sale way back and thought it looked interesting. Don't know why I waited so long to read it, but now that I have, I can't shake it. Its story is deceptively simple, but somehow its images haunt the mind long after reading. I guess it's the timelessness of it themes--violence (unfortunately) and love--because though the book was published in 1983 and the story itself, from hints in the book, I think is set about ten years before that, it obviously still resonates with readers in 1999. I wanted the story to go on, to find out if Cal survived his redemption.
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Format: Paperback
Bernard MacLaverty's Cal is perhaps on of the saddest books of the last 20 years. The story of a young Catholic man in Northern Ireland, it slowly but surely tears your heart out.
Cal is an unemployed young man who has very tenuous ties to the IRA. He begins to fall for the widow of one of his group's victims as he tries to break free from the IRA's clutches. All the while he is forced to bear the prejudices of his Protestant neighbors.
MacLaverty skillfully writes the tale. He never fools you about how the story will end but none the less he manages to make the reader invest some emotion in Cal so that when the inevitable comes you are just wiped out.
This is a wonderful piece of modern Irish literature.
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The book instantly takes the read into the world of Irish troubles. Cal is a Catholic living in a Protestant neighborhood. The reader soon finds out that Cal's past isn't so innocent. Crilly and Skeffington act as a kind of foil to Cal's determination to stay away from the conflict. "Is your not a part of the solution, your part of the problem," this phrase seems to ring true, that there are no neutrals. But Cal just wants to be alive, to dream about a widow who's husband was killed and to make sure he doesn't get killed himself. The book, being short, does not go to a scale or depth that one might hope. The ending is a bit disappointing, though expected, and the reader is left in the dust. But it is engaging and the character's shine forth in reality. It is a book about decisions and choices.
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