Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Jury Remains Out: CAL by Bernard MacLaverty

Acclaimed as literary novels, they are steeped in crime – but is it kosher to call them Irish crime fiction novels? YOU decide! Or, y’know, don’t! This week: CAL by Bernard MacLaverty
“Cal’s mother died when he was a child and he and his father, who works in the local abattoir, are under threat to get out from Loyalists who are itching to coin the phrase ethnic cleansing a decade or so early … What lifts CAL above its almost satirically grim subject matter is MacLaverty’s deliciously precise detailing and his dedication to his main character … not the least pleasure of reading it is to rediscover in Bernard MacLaverty another Northern Irish writer who can stand toe to toe with the rest of them, and with the great Brian Moore in particular.” John Self, Asylum

Comedy and humour are not among the stylistic features one would readily associate with Bernard MacLaverty’s works. CAL, for instance, his most famous book (which was also successfully filmed), is a haunting study of a nineteen-year-old Catholic in the midst of the Northern Irish Troubles and his desperate attempt to break away from this violent background—an attempt doomed to failure. On the surface, his writing seems a brilliant example of Seamus Deane’s hyperbolical dictum: “If there is anything more depressing than Ulster fact it must be Ulster fiction.” – International Fiction Review


John Self said...

That's very interesting, it would never have occurred to me to think of Cal as crime fiction, though of course on reflection the crime, offstage and in the past, at the heart of it is what defines Cal more than anything else, with his resulting sense of guilt.

Actually I'd agree with the International Fiction Review too, in that it was always my view that Ulster fiction was unutterably depressing - saying that as someone from Ulster who never wanted to be reminded of the grimmer realities when reading a book or watching a TV programme. That's probably why I took so long to read Cal even though I'd loved MacLaverty's debut Lamb so much. Now, perhaps because I am more mature about these things and perhaps because 'the Troubles' are a finally receding memory, I can engage more willingly with this sort of thing.

It helps - in fact it's essential - that MacLaverty is a brilliant writer of course, and could turn anything to gold.

Declan Burke said...

Cheers, John. The question here, of course, is whether a novel is a 'crime novel' because it engages with, or is propelled forward by, the consequences of criminal activity - even if, in this case, the criminal activity had a political motivation, or the fig-leaf of same. Cheers, Dec