The Pequod Review:
Few modern works of fiction so effectively capture the tension between the personal and the political as well as Cal, Bernard MacLaverty’s second novel. The book is set in Northern Ireland and tells the story of the title character, a 19-year-old Irish Catholic living in a Protestant Ulster neighborhood near the height of the Troubles. Cal is passive by nature, and would prefer to sit out the conflict, but he gets drawn into a terrible act of terrorism involving the murder of a Protestant policeman. Although he is paralyzed by guilt for months afterward, he is eventually able to fall in love — and much of the novel involves Cal trying to find redemption from his anguished past:
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 emotional and heartfelt, but rarely trite or sentimental, and by the end it packs a real punch.