Bernard Mac Laverty (1983) Cal.


I really enjoyed this short novel. Many of the themes resonate, identity, disillusionment, a search for meaning in a life that has no meaning.

He stood at the back gateway of the abattoir, his hands thrust into his pockets, his stomach rigid with the ache of want. Men in white coats and baseball caps whistled and shouted as they moved between the hanging carcases. He couldn’t see his father, yet he did not want to venture in. He knew the sweet warm nauseating smell of the place and they had no breakfast. Nor had he smoked his first cigarette of the day. Smells were always so much more intense then. At intervals the humane killer echoed round the glass roof. Queuing beasts bellowed in the distance as if they knew.

Cal hasn’t the stomach to work in the abattoir. His da Shammie had got him a job, even though they were Catholics and jobs were hard to come by, but Cal hadn’t lasted the week. Cal signed on the dole and peeled the potatoes waiting for his da to come in at six for dinner. His mum was dead and their Troubles didn’t end there. The house they lived in was the wrong side of the divide. They were the only Catholics left. Shammie wasn’t moving for no one. The trouble with that was they were Fenian bastards and others were determined to move them whether they liked it or not. Up the UVF.

They had protection of sort. An old revolver in the attic. But the price they paid was too high. Cal had to do a few favours. Drop things off. Do a bit of driving for Crilly for whom any cause that allowed him to create chaos was good enough for him and the unctuous Skeffington, whose fight for Irish freedom is a glorious thing – as long as it doesn’t directly involve him. Cal hasn’t the stomach for fighting. His terrible secret is he’s already acted as driver when Crilly shot a reservist in the police force.

Cal mopes about looking for a way out. Fate throws him in the path of the new librarian who’s come to help out. She’s the widow of the man Crilly shot. Coup de foudre. Merde. Shit.  Cal likes to talk to himself in a foreign language to make life interesting. But there’s no laughs here. He’s in love. But the reader know it’s going to end beautifully but badly. Marcella is as strikingly drawn character as Cal. Read on.

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