For Cal, some of the choices are devastatingly simple - he can work in the abattoir that nauseates him or he can 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 in a land where tenderness and innocence can only flicker briefly in the dark.
Cal is a teenager growing up during the troubles of Northern Ireland. He lives with his father Shamie (both are Catholics) in a town near Belfast in which mainly Protestants live. Cal's mother died when he was 8 years old.
Life there isn't easy for Cal. He is an outsider in the Protestant community and feels constantly threatened. He is unemployed after giving up a job in the abattoir as he “hadn’t a strong enough stomach” for it.
When visiting the local library one day he sees a woman, Marcella. He becomes fascinated with her and his fascination grows when he finds out that this Marcella was connected with an event in Cal’s past.
Cal manages to get a job on Marcella’s mother-in-law’s farm. While working there Cal has the opportunity to spend more time with Marcella and he falls in love with her. However we find out that Cal was involved in the IRA murder of her husband. So Cal is in love with the one person who he can never be with.
Cal and his father are burned out of their house by militant Protestants and Cal starts living on a derelict house on the Morton’s farm. Cal and Marcella spend more time together and they begin a love affair. Marcella does not know about Cal’s past.
Cal tries to separate himself from Crilly, Skeffington, the IRA and the past that haunts him. However they soon catch up with him and Cal is arrested for his involvement in the murder of Marcella’s husband.
The main themes of the novel are:
Politics of Northern Ireland and “The Troubles”
The book shows the tragic consequences