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Notes on “CAL”


									Notes on “CAL” by Bernard MacLaverty


Cal was a young Catholic man who had been involved in a sectarian
murder. He develops an obsession with the murdered man‟s wife,
Marcella Morton. While trying to avoid his two Republican activist
associates, Cal takes a job and a home with the dead man‟s family. Cal
and Marcella begin a sexual relationship. Cal is arrested at the end of the


Chapter 1
Cal goes to the abattoir to get cigarettes from his dad. He walks home
through the loyalist estate. He goes into his room to listen to music. His
giro comes though. He goes to the post office and gets his money. He
goes to the library. He sees a woman behind the counter who he finds
attractive. He hears that her name is Marcella and reacts with a start. He
leaves the library with his mind racing. He goes back to his house, gets
his library tickets and returns to the library.
      “He could not take his eyes off her, not because of what she was
      but because of what he might have done to her.”
He chooses a tape and goes to the counter and she issues it to him.

Cal‟s father comes home from work. Cal brings up Marcella‟s name.
Shamie confirms to Cal that “It was her”, although at this point we know
nothing about Marcella. Knowing it was her, Cal goes to his bedroom “to
eat again the ashes of what he has done”.

The next day he goes back to the library and returns the tape and goes
home. It begins to rain. He waits outside the library in the rain. He sees
her get into a yellow Anglia. Shamie is annoyed that Cal has done
nothing all day and hasn‟t even put the dinner on. Shamie tells Cal that
Crilly has been looking for him. Cal wonders what Crilly wants.
        “He felt sure it was going to start all over again.”
We hear a brief history of Crilly from their days at school together from
Cal‟s memory. Crilly is described as a cruel bully.
“It was Crilly who was largely responsible for Cal‟s stomach having
felt like a washboard over the past year.”
Cal takes the keys to the van and goes to Crilly‟s house. Finbar
Skeffington is also there. Skeffington informs Cal they need a driver as
there has been a call for money. Cal tells them he wants out. Seeing
Marcella has worried him. Cal says, “I have no stomach for it.”
We then find out what had happened – “to kill a guy on his own
Skeffington is successful in getting Cal‟s agreement to be the driver.

Friday night and Cal waits for Marcella to leave the library. He helps her
with her groceries. They have their first real conversation which is
friendly but awkward.

When he gets home there is a note for him and Shamie – GET OUT
He shows his dad the note. Shamie loads their gun. Cal fills the bath and
gets a blanket ready. He goes to bed and thinks of Marcella. He
remembers the first UVF threat, after which Crilly had provided them
with the gun. After that, Crilly had asked them for a series of „favours‟ –
their house to be used as a safe house. Cal then had to be a driver for

Cal makes a cup of tea for Shamie in the night. They discuss Cal‟s lack of
employment, specifically his lack of stomach for the abattoir. They
discuss leaving the district. They mention Cal‟s mother. Cal was eight
when she died.

Cal can‟t sleep. He thinks about the death of his mother. He also
remembers her reaction to the death of Cal‟s elder brother Brendan. Cal
had been self harming as a young teenager, sucking his skin until he
tasted blood. Shamie and Cal were unable to talk about girls.

In the morning Cal had a dream which is described as recurring. A
„young girl‟ who „needed his help‟ „ burst out of the glass.‟ The dream
ends with the girl „skewered on some railings, screaming unceasingly‟.

Chapter 2

Sunday Morning and Cal is going to church. He is running late so decides
to go to Magherafelt to another church. He watches a child and her
mother in front. He listens to the sermon which was about a man willing
to endure pain to right a wrong.
“The rest of his prayers consisted of telling him how vile he was. If he
was sick of himself, how would God react to him?”
He realises the woman he had seen was Marcella. “He had not thought
of her as a Catholic.” He pressed up against her has they left the church.

Cal goes to a football game in “the real Ireland”. As he looks at the
match he can‟t help thinking about his guilt.
“But the thing he had done was now a background to his life,
permanently there, like the hiss that echoed from the event that
began the Universe.”
He meets Skeffington in the toilet. They discuss Cal‟s unwillingness to be

Cal spent the next week idly, going to the library and waiting to hear
from Crilly. Cal and Shamie plan to cut some trees up to sell. They use
the lorry from the abattoir to transport the logs.
“He knew the road, had travelled it many times in his mind, hating
every twist and turn in it.”
He sells the logs to Mrs Morton, Marcella‟s mother in law. She offers
him some work. He does not see Marcella and plans to continue the work
the next day to have another chance of seeing her.

He leaves the lorry at the abattoir and is jumped by some loyalists.
“It was all in his head. Pain was for later. His fear had become a kind
of anaesthetic and he smashed at anything with his fists and his feet.”
He wishes he had had Shamie‟s gun. He tells Shamie about the fight.
He sleeps in the next day. He feels very vulnerable. He thinks about fear
– “The things he was afraid of were unknown to him.”… “But now
the fear was specific – the big one with the short hair kicking the
bathroom door down – it was less intense.”

He goes back to the farm and this time Marcella‟s car is there. “He was
trying to get close to the one person he should be continents away
from.” He meets Cyril Dunlop, a member of the orange order. Marcella‟s
child Lucy and then Marcella appear. They exchange pleasantries. An
RUC man comes to the house and Cal is nervous but it has nothing to do
with him. Cal is invited into the house for a beer and to be paid. She
offers him some more work. As he gets up to leave he hears a “terrible
bout of coughing”. Mrs Morton explains, “My husband was badly
injured that time. One got him in the larynx and the other here in the
lungs.” Cal is unnerved by her way of speaking as if he “knew all about
The next day Cal is picking potatoes. Three days of work. “Work had a
cleansing effect on him.” Cal is then offered more permanent farm work.
He accepts.

Chapter 3

Cal tells his dad he was offered a job. Shamie tells him Crilly is looking
for him. He goes round to Crilly‟s house. They discuss the job for that
night. They later collect the car they are going to use. They stop in some
woods, dump the van and collect some guns. They go to an off license.
Crilly takes a long time and Cal is nervous. They get the van back. Crilly
offers Cal some of the stolen money but Cal says it doesn‟t feel right to
take it, but he takes it anyway. They go to Skeffington‟s house which is
large and luxurious. They are introduced to Skeffington‟s father.
Skeffingtom makes reference to his father‟s gift for storytelling, but does
all the talking himself. Old Skeffington goes to his bed. They count the
money. Skeffington takes some, he says, to give to a struggling family.
Cal still wants out. Skeffington is unimpressed by Cal‟s attitude.

Monday and Cal starts work at the farm. Dunlop shows him the ropes.
Cal prefers the smell of the living farm to the abattoir and its smell of
death. Dunlop makes Cal feel slow in his work. Cal stops for a cigarette
at an old abandoned cottage. He sees Marcella a few times during the
week. He is frustrated that he does not see her more. He gets a lift to and
from work from Dunlop. On the Sunday he goes to the same service but
she is not there. He goes to the library to see her. They converse. He
watches her, obsessed with her physical presence. He takes a book out.
As he approaches his house, he sees that something is wrong. His house
has been set on fire. Shamie had and was sitting outside. They are
worried that their gun will be found.
They go to Dermot Ryan‟s house. He is one of Shamie‟s cousins. Cal
goes back to the house to get the gun. Cal feels safe in Dermot‟s house.
Crilly has been looking for Cal again. Cal asks Shamie to say that he
doesn‟t know where Cal is. Shamie goes to sleep and Cal thinks about
Marcella and the fact that he‟s lost his library book.

Next morning he waits for Dunlop in the usual place. He has the gun with
him from the house. He considers what they have lost. He breaks into the
derelict cottage. He hides the gun. He tells Dunlop he won‟t be needing a
lift any more. After work he walked to the pub and then back to the farm.
He begins to squat in the cottage. He sees Marcella at her bedroom
window. Cal has memories of what happened that night.
Crilly had said that it was the big one. They had gone to a dance at the
town hall. They had bought drinks and Crilly had said that they were
doing to „do‟ the Police Reserve. The dance was to be their alibi. They
danced with some girls and arranged to meet in the car park They drove
up the farm lane and Cal pulled up close to the farm door. Crilly rang the
bell and a man came to the door who Crilly shot.
       “He shouted as if he‟s been punched in the stomach,
       It was a kind of animal roar. ..the man roared again…Crilly
fired a shot through his head. … Crilly fired three more shots up the
hallway then turned and ran.”
Cal drove away, hitting the gatepost. Crilly confesses to shooting
someone else as well – “I don‟t know who he was. But he was too
nosey for his own good.”
 They went back to the dance. Cal dances with a girl but remembers every
detail if the incident that had occurred.
        “Marcella. The name roared in his ears, drowning out the
“He felt that he had a brand stamped in blood in the middle of his
forehead which would take him a lifetime to purge.”

Chapter 4

Cal was living in the cottage. He wondered about Marcella. “Although
she was light years away … he felt the enormous pull of her… His sin
kept them apart as surely as cold space.” He watches her and imagines
what she is doing as she has a bath. “He ached to see more of her”. He
shook and trembled as he watched. He knows it is the end if he is caught
and he “ran doubled to the cottage like a thief”.
MacLaverty returns to the space metaphor – “ If touching her thigh…
was an extra inch between them then slaying her husband put him on
the outer edge of the galaxy.”
He has made a break with Skeffingtion and Crilly. He tries to sleep. The
cottage is invaded and rifles are pointed at him. The Morton‟s had called
the police/army because someone was staying in the cottage. Cal says he
works on the farm and was burned out of his home. He hopes they don‟t
find his gun. The Mortons tend to Cal. He apologises for what he has
done. They agree to have Cal live in the cottage to stop the army forcing
them to board it up.
Next morning he gets clean and uses the same towel as Marcella. He is
offered wellies and he makes his way back to the cottage. It is Marcella‟s
day off and she is going to help him find furniture for the cottage. He
learns about Marcella‟s past. She tells him about her husband‟s murder
and that she had been on holiday to Rome to get over it.
Marcella realises Cal has lost everything and offers him second hand
clothes – those of her dead husband. They laugh together over Cal in the
too-big clothes and the dirt on his own jeans. They work to get the
cottage water pump functioning. Lucy, Marcella‟s daughter, hurts herself
and their time together is over, but there are plans to see each other over
laundry and picking brambles. He hands in the washing and Marcella is
not interested in chatting. He goes back to the cottage feeling as if there is
a fresh start for him. But “Now he felt safe from the world outside, he
was being attacked from within his own head.” He has a nightmare in
which a man is run over by a train and blood is everywhere.

The next evening Marcella brings his clothes back and gives him some
books. He tells her the library book, “Crime and Punishment”, was lost in
the fire. She has come to escape the house:
 „Grandad coughing.‟ She says “ I think it would have been better for
him to have died at the time. This way he is half alive and creates
misery for everyone around him.” Marcella confesses that she wants to
take her daughter and go. They agree to go to mass together and make it a
weekly arrangement. She also offers him a lift to the library and to see his

A Thursday and Cal asks Dunlop to take him to town. Dunlop is furious
about the IRA and the murder of Robert Morton.

Cal sees Shamie who is depressed. Shamie is crying about what he has
lost. Crilly and Skeffington are looking for Cal but Shamie doesn‟t know
where he is. Cal leaves them and tells Shamie to see a doctor. Marcella
drives him back again. They go for a drink. Cal figured there must be
nine years between them. He almost asks her out. They have enjoyed
each other‟s company.

Cal watches Marcella and her daughter having fun together. They invite
him to go and gather blackberries. They all enjoy their time. “The
happier Cal felt, the sadder he became. He wanted to confess to her,
to weep and be forgiven… he saw the scene as it would be in reality
and it horrified him.” She asks him is he has ever done anything really
bad. Marcella confesses to a minor error of judgement . “The slightness
of her sin made his confession impossible.” Cal confesses to various
schoolboy acts of violence instead.
There is an explosion. “It was half a cow – udders, hindquarters with
muscles red-raw and still jigging.” Cal vomited in a muddy ditch.

Chapter 5

Shamie still has depression. Cal is still trying to avoid Crilly. Cal has
been seeing less of Marcella, except when she gave him a lift to mass.
They could talk on a Sunday. “Then one morning, as if it was a secret,
she told him that her mother-in-law was going away for a week.”

The Mortons leave. Dunlop and Cal stop work early and Cal is alone in
the farmhouse. He thinks of the impossibility of his situation.
“Sometimes in her presence he felt like Quasimodo – as if the
ugliness of what he had done showed in his face. The brand in the
middle of his forehead would never disappear and seemed to throb
when she was near.” He decides to relax into his ugliness.

He goes to her room and touches and smells her things, questioning his
motives all the time. He sees himself in the mirror and is disgusted by his
actions. He finds her diary and reads some of it. He heard Marcella and
Lucy come back so went down to the kitchen. Marcella invites Cal for

They laugh and joke together. Marcella says, “Isn‟t this great? Like
lovers.” Cal thinks this means it is the last thing on her mind. They eat
their meal. Cal worries about drinking too much and casually confessing.
Cal finds himself staring at a photograph of Robert. They talk. Eventually
they kiss but Marcella draws back. She says she hasn‟t thought about Cal
in that way. They did the dishes. He tells her what she didn‟t want to
know about veal. She kisses him and he leaves. He goes to get drunk at
the pub.

Cal spends the week making fences - “ he was outside the boundary of
the farm fencing himself out.” He tried to read and think of reasons to
go to the house. The weather turned. Snow fell. Marcella came to the
door. She apologised for the other night. They drink together and she
allows him to show her physical affection. She is making the moves -
“Let‟s get into your bed.” As they kiss, he is haunted by his memories
of the murder – “In his darkness he saw her husband genuflect and
the sudden soiling of the wallpaper behind him. The unreal sound of
the cap gun.”
They have sex and then Marcella has to go back in case her daughter
wakes. Cal suddenly thinks about the possibility of a pregnancy, but
Marcella confesses that she had planned their encounter and had taken
precautions. Together they go to the farmhouse and have sex again. She
describes her marriage to Cal. She confesses that she did not much like
her husband. Cal tells Marcella he loves her.

He goes back to the cottage to consider what has happened.

The next day he goes into town for Christmas shopping. He went to
Dermot‟s house but Shamie had been admitted to a mental hospital for
treatment. Crilly had taken their van.
He bumps into Crilly in the library. Crilly shows him a bomb in the pages
of the book “Middlemarch”. Crilly tells Cal that Skeffington wants to see
him. Cal wants the van back. Skeffington‟s father has been run over and
the culprit was kneecapped with a captive bolt. Cal points out the
stupidity of Crilly‟s choice of a traceable weapon. Skeffington dismisses
Cal‟s opinion as he has pulled out. Skeffington sees Cal as a deserter and
traitor likely to become an informer. They hear the police outside.

The three of them escape into the garden. Crilly and Skeffington are
caught. Cal manages to walk casually away from the incident. He went
into a phone box and told the authorities about the bomb in the library,
proving Skeffington right.

He walked home. He goes up to the farmhouse. “And they made love in
an absolute and intense silence.” Cal tells Marcella about Shamie. She
invites him to Christmas dinner. They make love again. He feels bad that
she seems to trust him even although he cannot confess. The snow begins
to melt.

At the end of the book, Cal is arrested, “grateful that at last someone
was going to beat him within an inch of his life.”


The abattoir – “sweet, warm nauseating smell of the place”… “crack of
the humane killer” … “killing pen tip over and tumble a beast onto the
floor, its legs stiff to the ceiling”… “held out his glass to catch the spout
of blood”… “his father‟s white coat…japped all over with blood and stiff
with cold fat”

    MacLaverty‟s description of the slaughterhouse is so horrible that
     we share Cal‟s feelings of disgust towards it.

    The abattoir is symbolic of Northern Ireland. Killing is a way of
     life. The reactions of the characters to the setting shows their
     viewpoint on life in Northern Ireland. To Shamie, it is a job that
     someone has to do. Cal literally cannot stomach it. Crilly is in his
     element, sharpening knives and killing.

    MacLaverty‟s point is that the Irish problem is bloody and
     intractable. He uses the abattoir, an unpleasant symbol to indicate
     his distaste for the politics of Northern Ireland.

    Imagery from the abattoir is used elsewhere in the novel as Robert
     Morton dies with an “animal roar” and Cal‟s guilt is described
     thus: “He felt that he had a brand stamped in blood in the middle of
     his forehead which would take him a lifetime to purge.”

he felt the eyes on him… flutter or union jacks…kerbstones…alternating
red, blue and white.. excluded and isolated… father‟s neat garden..

    Cal feels very vulnerable in his street. He and his father are the
     only Catholics in the neighbourhood. He is intimidated by the
     loyalist colour that surround the street.

    Their vulnerability led to the McCluskey‟s accepting the gun from
     Crilly. This led to Cal being in some kind of debt to Crilly.

    The fact that they are the last Catholics make them seem out of
     place. The threat from the UVF leads to their burning out. This
     provided MacLaverty with the opportunity to place Cal more
      permanently at the farm – giving Cal another reason to move into
      the cottage.

“Once over the border he experienced the feeling of freedom he always
got… green white and gold… Their flags… a red one for a goal, a white
one for a point. Mortal and venial sins. Red for sex and murder, white for
working while you were collecting the dole. He imagined the priest
leaning out of the confession box with his flags.”

    Cal finds that even the normal things in his life have been tainted
     by his involvement in the murder. “But the thing he had done was
     now a background to his life, permanently there, like the hiss that
     echoed from the event that began the Universe.” He superimposes
     symbolism over what he sees as he thinks about his guilt.

“Skeffington lived in a big house with a gravelled driveway… the house
was luxurious, full of gilt mirrors and flock wallpaper."
    It is interesting to note that Skeffington is the one who enlists
      Crilly and Cal to go out to steal money for the cause, but he lived
      in a very large house that is luxuriously decorated. He is only a

“He found the reek of living cattle much more acceptable than the smell
of the abattoir and after a while grew to like it.”

“It was half a cow – udders, hindquarters with muscles red-raw and still

    The farm is a place where both Catholics and protestants live. The
     Mortons had been protestant farmers for centuries and Marcella
     was a Catholic. Dunlop and Cal the farm workers were
     representatives of both communities.
    When he goes there with the wood to sell, he is returning to the
     scene of the crime.

    The violence of the explosion reminds us of the abattoir and the
     symbolism there. The countryside does not escape the violence.

Library – where he first sees Marcella. Where Crilly plants the bomb
that makes Cal turn informer.

Snow – From the moment the snow falls until the snow begins to melt,
Marcella and Cal are free to carry out their doomed sexual relationship.
Snow alters the appearance of reality for a short time, covering over what
is underneath. It is white, which has connotations of purity – ironic in the

CAL AND MARCELLA: Notes and Quotes

Chapter 1

“… a new woman behind the counter. She was small and dark haired
with very brown eyes … She looked foreign, had that sallowness of
skin that he associated with France. He tried to guess her age but
couldn‟t. She wasn‟t young, perhaps somewhere in her late
twenties…. Cal went up to take a closer look at the woman…. She
had a lovely mouth as well as eyes.”
Cal is attracted to Marcella before he knows who she is. The fact that he
associates her immediately with France, a foreign land, shows that she is
not connected with Ireland in his mind.

We first hear the name when Cal overhears someone in the library use her
name. We can tell Cal starts as he hears the name as it is presented to us
in a minor sentence. There are three one word sentences “Marcella” when
he first hears the name. The reader can tell that he must recognise the
name and he panics and leaves the library. MacLaverty tantalises the
reader by controlling the release of details about the past throughout the

“The more he thought of her, the more his fascination and curiosity
This tendency remains with Cal throughout the novel.

“He could not take his eyes off her, not because of what she was but
because of what he might have done to her.”
Again, this is a narrative hook for the reader. We do not know at this
point what he has done.

“Her nails were white and unpainted and she wore a gold ring on her
wedding finger.”
Cal notices lots of small physical details of Marcella‟s appearance.

“Cal closed his eyes. It was her… In some way… he would have to
make it up to her.”
We know from this that Cal feels guilt.

“He wanted to reach out his hand and touch her over the counter, to
tell her everything would be alright.”
Shows his interest, care and affection for Marcella.

“She took back the tape efficiently and beautifully, but not
Marcella has not noticed Cal as an individual as he has noticed her.

“He thought of the woman in the library. He wanted to put his arm
about her – here and now – to do nothing but absorb the silence…..
Marcella was a Continental name. He shuddered.”
This shows again his guilt, the feeling that Marcella has nothing to do
with Ireland and its problems and his affection for her.

Chapter 2

“She crouched shyly into her mother… Her mother, wearing a black
mantilla eased the child round..”
Cal again picks out Marcella without realising it is her.
“When he looked up he saw that the woman in the black mantilla
was Marcella.”

“He had not thought of her as Catholic.”
She had been married to a protestant. We know Cal had only thought of
her as foreign or continental. He now sees she had a complicated position
in the Irish situation. Like him she is a Catholic living amongst a
protestant majority.

“Her eyes skimmed over Cal, not noticing him.”
Marcella again does not notice Cal in contrast to his fascination with her.

“The door opened and instead of Marcella a tall grey haired woman
with glasses…”
Cal must have planned to sell the logs to Marcella to create another
seeming coincidence, but his attempt to see her initially fails.

“A moment later Marcella, dressed in a sheepskin jacket and green
Wellingtons appeared… She nodded politely to him, then,
recognising him as the boy who had carried her groceries, said hello,
her voice lifting with surprise.”
This is Marcella‟s first real recognition of Cal. She is unaware of his
plotting to see her again.

Chapter 3

“On Thursday the library stayed open late… as he approached he
could see it was her and he felt a surge of elation.”
He again has planned an opportunity to see her and is delighted that this
attempt is successful.

„She smiled, seeing him, and his insides went to water. He felt himself
begin to blush and fought it helplessly. The redness invaded his face
and neck and his ears burned.”
Cal is infatuated.

“He looked up. Marcella came to the window and with a gesture like
a priestess pulled the heavy curtains together. At least now he knew
which was her bedroom.
He thought of himself as a menial at the gate-lodge to the house of his
mistress. If his guitar had not been broken he could have stood
beneath her window and serenaded her.”
He sees himself as a romantic hopeful, also in a protective role. He sees
Marcella as above him. Priests have, in Catholicism, the ability to
The end of Chapter 3 is an account of the murder of Robert Morton, when
the reader learns in detail about the history between Marcella and Cal.

Chapter 4

“He got the feeling that the house was the earth and the cottage the
moon orbiting it… He would keep a kind of vigil and see the lights
come on in different rooms and wonder whether it was Marcella or
not. Although she was light years away from him he felt the
enormous pull of her. And yet, like the moon and the earth, he knew
that, because of what he had done, they could never come together,
His sin kept them apart as surely as cold space.”
Imagery of the universe is used there – earth, moon, light years, cold
space – to describe their relationship of tension and distance.

“If he had barred himself by his action the least he could do was

“He stood watching the square of light imagining her and what she
was doing.”

“He ached to see more of her. He loved the way her eyes were
averted, the way she was intent on what she was so busily doing, the
way her head kept ducking in and out of his vision. The fact that she
was totally unaware of his spying presence made him shake. He stood
on tiptoes to try to see more of her and the tremble in his legs became
exaggerated… He heard her begin to hum a tune and it made him
feel like the biggest shit on earth…. He climbed awkwardly down on
the diesel tank and ran doubled to the cottage like a thief.”
Cal‟s voyeurism disturbs the reader and eventually Cal himself. His „kind
of vigil‟ goes too far.

“He was in love with the one woman in the world who was forbidden
him. … by his action he had outlawed himself from her. She was the
unattainable idea because he had helped kill her husband. And every
one of his actions distanced him a little more… slaying her husband
put him on the outer edge of the galaxy”
MacLaverty returned to the cosmic imagery here to create the sense of
distance between them.

“My daughter in law has suggested a compromise… we shall make
you a tenant.”
It was Marcella‟s idea to let Cal stay in the cottage.
“Marcella told him something of her upbringing… an Italian
family… Portstewart Convent for her education…just been to
Rome… to get her mind off what happened..”
Marcella makes an effort to talk to Cal.

“He had imagined her as very quiet.”
For all his observation of her, he does not yet know Marcella.

“When he was alone, he could hardly believe that it had happened.
They had been together for nearly three hours…”
“She was businesslike and brief and had closed the door before Cal
could think of anything else to say.”
Cal is disappointed in how their relationship is going. He felt there had
been a change, but Marcella is impersonal again.

“He wanted to put his arms round her, to apologise to her. Then with
a little surge of excitement he realised that he didn‟t need to strive to
keep her there. She had come of her own free will. But the excitement
died immediately. She hadn‟t come to him, she had come to get away
from something.”
Cal is coming to terms with the reality of a friendship.

“…she told Cal that she would pick him up for mass every Sunday, if
he wanted, and give him a life after the library of he was going in to
see his father.”
They have a settled arrangement between them.

“Cal calculated a rough age for her and found there was an
impossible nine years‟ difference between them…. Cal was on the
point of asking her to come out with him but couldn‟t find the
Despite all his thoughts about the impossibility of a relationship, Cal
finds himself almost ready to ask her out but he is inarticulate.

“I thought I was detached from the whole thing. Being called
D‟Agostino kind of distanced you from it. But when someone kills
your husband, you‟re involved whether you like it or not.”
This is Marcella‟s perception of where she stands in the Irish situation.

The happier Cal felt, the sadder he became. He wanted to confess to
her, to weep and be forgiven. He saw the scene in his mind of her
holding him, comforting him; he saw the scene as he knew it would
be in reality and it horrified him.”
Cal is still caught between the relationship he wants and the reality of his
“The slightness of her sin made his confession impossible.”

“She put out her hand behind her and took Cal‟s hand in hers. It was
an unthinking gesture and the touch only lasted for a second before
she realised. She let go of him and seemed embarrassed.”
Marcella‟s affectionate action was „unthinking‟ – spontaneous and
unconscious. This is in contrast to Cal‟s calculating attitude to every

Chapter 5

“The only time he could be sure of seeing Marcella was on Sunday
mornings when she gave him a lift to mass … she talked …
sometimes she parked in the lane at the cottage… she would touch
his arm … punch him playfully …Then one morning, as if it was a
secret, she told him that her mother in law was going away for a
Cal is Marcella‟s friend and confidante.

“Here he was in Marcella‟s home… He longed for Marcella to come
back, ached to tell her of his love but knew that it could never
become a reality… her sincerity he was repaying with forgeries…The
brand in the middle of his forehead would never disappear and
seemed to throb when she was near.”
Love and guilt are closely associated for Cal. The greater his love for
Marcella, the guiltier he feels. Imagery of the slaughterhouse is used.

“She looked lovely. It was as if she had prepared for him coming.”
Cal is given reason to hope.

“ „Isn‟t this great? Like lovers.‟
He wished she hadn‟t said that. To say it out loud meant that it was
the last thing on her mind.”
Then the hope seems lost.

“Sometimes I feel very isolated here.”
Marcella is isolated, as Cal also is.
“Cal leaned over her, with a slowness which gave her enough time to
turn her head away if she wanted to, and kissed her mouth. And
again…After a long time it was she who withdrew from the kiss.”…
“When he was going she took his face between her hands and kissed
him affectionately on the mouth.
„Cal, you‟re my friend. Don‟t be miserable. It is the sensible thing.‟
The events of the evening moved faster than Marcella had anticipated. It
is not clear what exactly she had expected of the evening. She disappoints
Cal, but it is clear that she does value the friendship that they have. Cal
had given her the option of drawing back earlier.

“Cal was just sick of himself”

“ „I want you to know that I am very fond of you and that I felt awful
about hurting you.‟ She was choosing her words.

“Cal, I came to you hoping.”
This time Marcella had planned a sexual encounter.

“ „I love you,‟ he said. As he said it he felt new danger. The more he
loved her, the more friendly he became with her, the more afraid he
would tell her what he had done. It was the one thing he wanted to
talk to her about, to have her console him. He wanted to share his
guilt with the person he had wronged. To commune with her and be
forgiven. He opened his mouth to speak and she waited, listening
with raised eyebrows. Cal paused.
„I would like – another drink,‟ he said.
Cal cannot articulate his thoughts and feelings. Love and guilt are very
close together here.

“Could he ever tell her the truth? Perhaps he could write it down…
he would write to her and try to tell it as it was. He had her now like
the sleeping beauty of his fantasy.
Again he cannot articulate his thoughts.


    Cal is smitten at first sight. Marcella takes time to feel attracted to
    Cal is unable to day to Marcella how he feels about her.
    Their relationship cannot succeed because he cannot confess to her
     his part in the murder of her husband.
    The only way he can confess and show his love for Marcella is to
     be arrested and beaten to within an inch of his life.
    Marcella was lonely to begin with. She lacked friends. Her
     marriage had been unhappy towards the end.
    Marcella and Cal are alike in that they are isolated, almost
     friendless, living away from their families, Catholics whose homes
     are with Protestants and both trying to escape the past.
    Cal seeks Marcella‟s company out of love and out of guilt. This is
    Without honesty, the relationship is doomed.
    The arrest allows Cal to express his mental anguish through
     physical suffering.
    It is hard to think that the relationship would have any future
     beyond the pages of the novel.


For each of the following characters, answer the following questions in
sentences and paragraphs as appropriate:

   1. What is their relationship with Cal?
   2. What is their position in the Irish situation? Include evidence.
   3. How do they make Cal feel about himself? Include evidence.
   4. What do they do in the novel? What key incidents are they
      involved in?
   5. What sort of person do they represent?
   6. How is the reader supposed to feel about this character?

Crilly, Skeffington, Marcella, Shamie, Dermot.

MacLaverty uses an omniscient third person narrator. That narrator also
tells us things from Cal‟s point of view. We can see inside Cal‟s mind.
We understand his motives, his desires, his thoughts, feelings and regrets.
MacLaverty uses a third-person interpretation of Cal‟s stream of

By focussing so closely on Cal, we see things from his point of view and
our sympathies are directed towards him. We understand Cal‟s
motivation. Had we not been given insights into Cal‟s thoughts, and
considered only his actions, we may not be so sympathetic to him.

The incident where Cal is left in the car while Crilly goes to rob the shop
shows us Cal‟s stream of consciousness. This was the text for the second
textual analysis in the unit.

We see things from Cal‟s point of view and so we sympathise with him
and the decisions he makes. As the narrative dips into Cal‟s stream of
consciousness, we are aware only of the choices Cal considers.

Many important incidents in the novel take place inside Cal‟s head, either
as flashbacks to key incidents prior to the novel‟s opening, or as thoughts,
ideas and feelings which Cal experiences.


The novel tries to communicate that life in Northern Ireland is complex.
It is therefore appropriate that the structure of the novel is complex.

The novel‟s structure is also linked to the theme of guilt. It begins by
setting in motion a sequence of events which bring Cal face to face with
his guilt.

By not starting the book with the murder of Robert Morton, MacLaverty
puts himself in charge of a controlled release of the information. This
allows him to inject an element of mystery and suspense to the narrative
and so keep the reader‟s interest. We don‟t know initially why Cal feels
guilt when faced with Marcella. We have to wait some time until we find
out about the first time Cal heard Marcella‟s name.
The beginning of the novel is set in an abattoir – showing that the story
begins at a dead-end.

At the end of the novel Cal is relieved that there will be a conclusion to
his situation, even if that conclusion is going to be painful.



1. “He could not take his eyes off her, not because of what she was but
because of what he might have done to her.”

2. “It was Crilly who was largely responsible for Cal‟s stomach having
felt like a washboard over the past year.”


3. “It was all in his head. Pain was for later. His fear had become a kind
of anaesthetic and he smashed at anything with his fists and his feet.”


4. “But the thing he had done was now a background to his life,
permanently there, like the hiss that echoed from the event that began the

5. “He shouted as if he‟s been punched in the stomach,
      It was a kind of animal roar.”

6. “He felt that he had a brand stamped in blood in the middle of his
forehead which would take him a lifetime to purge.”

7. “Although she was light years away from him he felt the enormous
pull of her. And yet, like the moon and the earth, he knew that, because of
what he had done, they could never come together, His sin kept them
apart as surely as cold space.”

8. “The happier Cal felt, the sadder he became. He wanted to confess to
her, to weep and be forgiven. He saw the scene in his mind of her holding
him, comforting him; he saw the scene as he knew it would be in reality
and it horrified him.”


9. “The brand in the middle of his forehead would never disappear and
seemed to throb when she was near.”

10. “…and he stood in a dead man‟s Y-fronts, grateful that at last
someone was going to beat him within an inch of his life.”

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