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3.54  ·  Rating details ·  2,076 ratings  ·  121 reviews
Set in the Northern Ireland of the 1980’s, Cal tells the story of a young Catholic man living in a Protestant area. For Cal, some choices are devastatingly simple: he can work in an abattoir that nauseates him or join the dole queue; he can brood on his past or plan a future with Marcella.

Springing out of the fear and violence of Ulster, Cal is a haunting love story that u
Paperback, 154 pages
Published May 7th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1983)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,076 ratings  ·  121 reviews

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Jun 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
It's a depressing story about life in Northern Ireland in the '80's. If a Catholic is living in a mainly Protestant area, he's asking for trouble. Cal tries to hold his own in the environment of the Troubles.
Had it been a film, it would have been in black and white.
A bleak portrait of a young Catholic man, Cal living with his father in a Protestant Housing Development in Northern Ireland. Cal's life is one of poverty, living on the dole and going nowhere fast. Cal is involved on the fringes of the IRA but an act of violence wants him away from the conflict.

Well written but short novel of the conflict, how the ties that bind you to an area, people are difficult near impossible to walk away from. A short novel that ends abruptly but is confronting. Well wort
Cal the central character of this book is Catholic. Living with his father in Ulster, Northern Ireland, in a Protestant housing estate during the 1980s, their very existence is threatened. They are not welcome. They are sent menacing letters, “Move, get out, this is your last warning!” What is drawn is life in that era so glibly called by Brits “The Troubles”.

What if you are physically and emotionally drawn one way and your head in another? Say that person is not self-assured, a person lacking
Jay Gertzman
May 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Bernard Mac Laverty’s Cal is one of the best anti-war novels I have read. It is about a civil war, the Catholics fighting for freedom from British rule (Nationalists) vs. the Protestant Loyalists in northern Ireland, with the Brit forces policing the cities where these “troubles” are taking their toll. Americans are familiar with the fighting between friends and relatives who have chosen sides in the Union vs confederacy bloodbath. In Cal, we see how one’s own confederates are equally destructiv ...more
Rob Twinem
Mar 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
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 are a catholic f
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very moving, sensual love story between a young Catholic man and a widow about 9 years older than the man.. It is also about the deeds and regrets of the same young Catholic man in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. Extremely well told!
As Catholics, Cal McCluskey and his father are a rarity in their community and fear attacks on their home. Resistant to join his father in working at the local abattoir, Cal spends his days doing odd jobs and lurking around the public library – he has a crush on a married librarian named Marcella. Aimless and impressionable, he’s easily talked into acting as a driver for Crilly and Skeffington, the kind of associates who have gotten him branded as “Fenian scum.” The novella reflects on the futil ...more
Feb 15, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read Cal (1983) by Bernard MacLaverty for my book group.

Last year I read and loved Milkman (2018) by Anna Burns which is a highly original take on the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and one of the best books I have ever read.

Cal is also set in the Troubles and is a bleak portrait of Cal, a young Catholic man who lives with his father in a Protestant area. He's on the fringes of the IRA however, after participating in political violence, he is trying to distance himself from them. Sadly his opt
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-reviews
Guilt, atonement and the futility of war are the central themes in Bernard MacLaverty’s 1983 novel Cal.

Set in Northern Ireland, it tells the story of Cal, a young, unemployed Catholic man living on a Protestant housing estate at the height of The Troubles. Each night he waits to be fire-bombed out of the home he shares with his father and each morning he gets up to find everything is okay.

But there’s a dark, pervasive atmosphere, one that seem only conducive to fear and violence, and for much of
Feb 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: war, historical, favorites
Tender as a bruise, is this book.
Emma Getz
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was described by my professor as Romeo and Juliet in 1970s Northern Ireland, which turned out to be incredibly accurate. It is a quaint and tender story of first love and the happiness and desperation that comes along with it, in the midst of incredible violence and uncontrollable guilt in its complicity. It was beautiful and the last paragraphs were haunting. I will definitely be thinking about this story for a long time.
Stephanie Jane (Literary Flits)
Mar 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-europe
See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits

Cal is the first book I think that I have read which so directly addresses the sectarian violence in 1980s Northern Ireland. I remember as an older child watching television news reports of IRA bombs and attacks, not understanding much of the reasons behind such atrocities and also not realising that, on English TV anyway, we were only generally shown half the story. At one point in Cal MacLaverty has his character wonder why Protestant activ
May 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
I will be visiting Northern Ireland for the first time in a few months with my wife and this novel came highly recommended for its ability to communicate a lot about the Troubles with humanity and brevity. The story is spare but not shallow by any means, and the protagonist is sympathetic and emblematic of what existentialists refer to as the "thrownness" of the human condition. Cal is in the midst of a situation in which no choice is especially attractive, and no matter what he does he will dis ...more
Apr 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: novels
I like McLaverty's writing a lot. This is the first one I read - I thought I'd put it on GR but apparently not. A tense, superior novel set in Northern Ireland during the troubles in the 70s. Try his stories - recently read 'Matters of Life and Death' which has two great stories.
bugger it I don't know how to put links in or italics come to that
May 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ireland
Romeo O'Juliet meets Maggie Mae. A thoroughly depressing book from a thoroughly depressing time. An awesome writer.
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Life ain't easy if you coming of age in N. Ireland during the years the constant conflict between the IRA & Loyalists. Tough times, tough choices and tough consequences for mistakes made. ...more

Fine, fine novel about the Troubles in the mid 60's. The blurbs call it a classic, the "Passage To India" of the era and though I don't unfortunately know the Forester book very well, it's easy to see why.

Cal McClusky is a teenager on the dole, the only son of an abbatoir man who is in the midst of some serious turmoil- physical (puberty), political (he's the only son of a widowed father who is stubbornly staying in a hostile Ulster neighborhood, a bitter Roman Catholic among aggressive Protesta
Apr 12, 2020 rated it liked it
This was a tough read. It's the 1980's, Cal, a young catholic lad – around 19? – in Northern Ireland lives with his dad (his mom is dead) and being unemployed he spends his time playing guitar and listening to music, till he gets caught in the fringes of the IRA. After he was involved in the murder of a protestant police man, he wants to get 'out' badly. From this point on he is consumed by guilt, and makes one terrible decision after another, while slowly falling in love, with the one person he ...more
Ciara Malaugh
May 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
A short but powerful novel about a love doomed before its inception by circumstance, Cal follows a young working-class boy in NI in the 80s. The country is only halfway through its 30-year-conflict that was the Troubles, and this seeps into every aspect of Cal’s life. He and his father are the only Catholic family left in their housing estate, and every time he walks home, he must be cognizant of his surroundings; boys from the neighborhood are ready to pounce on him and threaten his home with p ...more
A beautifully sad story that makes us understand what it felt like to live in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

P.S.: My lil Glasgow-loving heart appreciated all the references. You can tell the author lives in Glasgow now haha.
Sep 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the second novel I've read by McLaverty, having already enjoyed his semi autobiographical 'The Anatomy School'.

Set in a small town close to Magherafelt, it follows the life of unemployed Catholic 19 year old Cal, who lives as the last of his 'kind' in a Protestant housing estate with his father, Shamie, an abattoir worker. From early in the novel, it becomes clear that Cal is involved on the fringes of the IRA but wants out, which isn't so easy, given the pressures put on him by ex scho
Stephen McQuiggan
Feb 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Cal's in love with the honey who works in the library. Cal has a problem. Cal drove the car for the gunman who murdered the honey's husband. A truly moving novel, set against a depressing backdrop I'm unfortunately all too familiar with, filled with genuinely poignant lyrical touches. It's the innocence of it all - even amid the abattoirs and senseless slayings - that really hits home; Cal's need to be forgiven or punished beyond redemption. One of the best books about the Troubles I've read.
Oct 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is certainly an emotional undertaking. I read it for a Northern Ireland class, and I just flew through it. It's one of the best insights I've ever had into the possible mindset of an IRA member who doesn't quite have the stomach for it, but gets lost and tangled in everything he's done and everything he wishes he could do.
Apr 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This novel poignantly addresses the complexity of being caught in cultural hubris. Cal's struggle is one that preexisted him... one that will outlive him.
This one made me cry, and I don't do that often.

P.S. If you gave this novel anything less than five stars, ask yourself: Do I have a heart? Just kidding... kind of.
Jan 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a really wonderful story about an Irish Catholic, Cal, living in Belfast in the 70's. Cal becomes involved in a murder and falls in love with the wife of the man murdered. MacLaverty has really spun a fine tale here.
Mar 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Although I liked the writing style, I felt this book was a sad tale of a man who's life was going nowhere. His guilt was all that he lived for. MacLaverty is a good writer, that's not the issue. The issues is that the book was nothing more than a sad story.
Personal opinion, I guess.
Feb 14, 2015 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, irish
This is a powerful book about being caught between two worlds: the Catholic IRA of the 1980's and the Protestants of Northern Ireland. It is a mighty book, right through to the last page.
May 31, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: war
It misses true suspense and action.
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Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast in 1942 and lived there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland with his wife, Madeline, and four children. He has been a Medical Laboratory Technician, a mature student, a teacher of English and, for two years in the mid eighties, Writer-in-Residence at the University of Aberdeen.

After living for a time in Edinburgh and the Isle of Islay he now lives in Glasgow

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