Bernard MacLaverty

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Bernard MacLaverty (born 14 September 1942) is an Irish fiction writer and novelist. His novels include Cal, Grace Notes, and Midwinter Break. He has written five books of short stories.


Lamb (1980)[edit]

  • "I always say that a man with one language is like a man with one eye."
    • Ch.1 - p.8
  • "They are angry men with vision, Brother, and by God their anger is justified. Ireland has not much longer to suffer. Her misery will soon be over and we'll be a united country again."
    "Yes," said Brother Sebastian, "but I don't like their methods."
    "Nor do I, Brother. Nor do I. But do you like the methods of the British Government any better?"
    • Ch.1 - p.9
  • "There's not much money - if that's what you mean."
    "Once all the debts are paid there will be very little."
    "Nevertheless. Every little helps. The Brothers are sorely in need of it this weather."
    • Ch.1 - p.12
  • "What we run here, Brother, is a finishing school for the sons of the Idle Poor."
    "It finishes them all right."
    • Ch.1 - p.14
  • "Bitter?" said the barmaid and he nodded. What a strange thing to call a drink. Bitter. Aloes. Sorrow. For something that was supposed to make you feel happy.
    • Ch.6 - p.53
A bird's-eye view does not see the truth.
  • "It's a bad day when the biggest thing you catch is a seagull."
    • Ch.10 - p.89
  • Michael wondered why it was the tragic things that remained with him most vividly.
    • Ch.10 - p.89
  • When they had come recruiting to his school - 'for fishers of men' - all those years ago and had offered the glittering lures of sanctity and safety, Michael had jumped selflessly.
    It was a long time before the line pulled taut and he felt the pain of the hooks within him and the irony of the fisherman caught.
    • Ch.13 - p.110
  • He no longer believed in any of it. Faith was a bit like luck. Spiritual luck. By the end of his novitiate it had begun to drain away. He struggled and prayed to retain it but each morning that he awoke he realized that he had less of it. He had sprung a leak and he didn't know where to mend it.
    Nevertheless he took his final vows. He did not know what else he could do. To back out at that stage would have killed his father. He was convinced of it.
    Once he had discussed the problem with his Novice Master but he had averted his face and told him to pray. After this his prayers carried an extra phrase - if You exist. God, if You exist, help me. But this compromise eventually gave way to not praying at all. He felt totally trapped. [...] It was funny in a way that it was his love for his father and a desire not to hurt him that kept him for so long in the Brothers. But when his father died everything changed.
    • Ch.13 - p.111; 111-112
  • A bird's-eye view does not see the truth.
    • Ch.17 - p.145

Cal (1983)[edit]

( See also 'Cal', the movie (1984) on YouTube )
  • "If you have a war on your hands you send for the Mr Crillys of this world. The hard men and the bandits are the real revolutionaries, if you see what I mean. They get things done, they punch the hole for us to get through later."
    • Ch.2 - p.40 [Page numbers per the 1998 Vintage paperback.]
  • Suddenly a police Land Rover with its hee-haw siren blaring swung into the main road behind them with a squeal of tyres. It roared along and overtook them so fast its body tilted at an angle to the chassis.
    Someone said, "Jesus, they'll sell no ice cream going at that speed."
    • Ch.2 - p.55
  • "Do you still want to - refuse to help?"
    "I'm afraid so."
    "Not to act - you know - is to act. By not doing anything you are helping to keep the Brits here."
    • Ch.3 - p.65
  • "Once you've been through a tragedy you're scared of it ever after," Mrs Morton said.
    • Ch.4 - p.98
  • He put his feet up on the mantelpiece and leaned back in the chair. He thought about how things happened to him but he brought nothing about. What he needed was self-discipline. His mother had ruled her own life with a hand of iron. She did everything she should do, getting up at seven and walking a mile to mass every day no matter what the weather; if she wanted one thing badly she did without others; if what she wanted was spiritual she denied her body. In Lent she took black tea and weighed her morsels of food on scales and for six weeks wouldn't let a sweet cross her lips although she loved them. She sent money abroad to her working sisters while at night she sat with a wooden mushroom darning her stockings with a criss-cross brown thread. She worked so her family would not want and Cal had never wanted while she was alive.
    He got a sense of a new life, a new start now that he had officially moved into the cottage. He would discipline himself. He felt a surge of his own power to direct his life into whatever path he wanted. There were six cigarettes left in his packet and he lit one and smoked it with a decadent pleasure, knowing it to be his last. The rest he threw into the fire.
    • Ch.4 - p.105, 106
"We went on a school trip down the Rhine one summer and I saw a crucifixion that made all others look pale for me."
  • "We went on a school trip down the Rhine one summer and I saw a crucifixion that made all others pale for me. It was a painting. And it was the first thing like that which had any effect on me. I stood and stared at it for so long the teachers lost me and had to come back for me."
    • Ch.4 - p.109, 110
  • "What about you?"
    "I would like to see a united Ireland, but I haven't decided the best way to go about it yet."
    "I feel sorry for it."
    "Ireland. It's like a child. It's only concerned with the past and the present. The future has ceased to exist for it."
    • Ch.4 - p.118
  • Violence is a bit like antibodies. Small doses build up until you can reject and be immune to the most horrific events.
    • Ch.5 - p.127
  • "Love is a very strange idea. I never know what it is. When you were young it seemed to be all intensity and no opportunity. Later when you did get the opportunity the fire had gone out of it."
    • Ch.5 - p.140
  • "Cal, the world is full of gulpins who don't care who they hurt."
    • Ch.5 - p.144

Grace Notes (1997)[edit]

  • It was a way of not thinking - to concentrate on her surroundings. If she stared at things, then it helped block out stuff.
    • Part 1 - p.3
  • Purring was the funniest thing, like a motorbike in the distance.
    • Part 1 - p.10
  • "The individual matters," said Mrs Gallagher.
    • Part 1 - p.17
  • Are you a conduit for the music?
    • Part 1 - p.33
  • On a slippery slope the only way was down.
    • Part 1 - p.96
  • An earthquake in one department created tidal waves in others.
    • Part 1 - p.96
  • Steady as a three-legged stool.
    • Part 1 - p.97
  • Sometimes I have difficulty with the avant-garde. There's a gallery in London I've been to and it's difficult to tell what's going on. A bag of nails, a ladder, a hammer - a crisp bag in the corner. Is it an exhibition or are they preparing an exhibition? Is the artist asking me to pay attention to something trivial or important?
    • Part 1 - p.105
  • She smiled to prove everything was all right. It was an odd device, this rearrangement of muscles of the face which said everything is all right. No need to enquire within. It could be used as a barrier to fend off emotional intruders.
    • Part 1 - p.123
  • In a Portstewart guest house her father liked to play tricks when he had eaten his egg. He would put the shell upside down in someone else's eggcup. The McKennas would sit and watch the next person lift a spoon and cave in the top of the hollow egg.
    • Part 2 - p.167
  • When she met men the first things she took account of were the negative things. Wimpishness, a bully, shiftiness, recklessness, elaborate facial hair.
    • Part 2 - p.178
  • The island kids had TV, radio. Their remote surroundings were seen as a deprivation, not something to be enjoyed. They felt cut off from the mainstream. To be on an island was a source of discontent, not as good as the mainland.
    • Part 2 - p.208
  • "I wish I was artistic," said Liz, "then I could be temperamental."
    • Part 2 - p.253
  • You sit down to your desk and listen to what's inside your head. Things appear suddenly and unexpectedly. I don't mean it's like inspiration or anything like that but, put it this way, you are there with a 3B pencil in your hand should you hear anything good. If you are in a notion of working, the idea takes root and won't let you go. It puts out twigs and branches. These twigs get leaves and thorns and maybe, if you are lucky, blossoms. And fruit. [...] The worst thing that can happen at a time like this is an interruption. When the interruption is over it's very hard to get the same momentum going again.
    • Part 2 - p.265
  • How can something be utterly simple and amazingly complex at the same time? Things are simple or complex according to how much attention is paid to them.
    • Part 2 - p.270

Midwinter Break (2017)[edit]

A painting about touch.
She rummaged in her bag and produced a postcard she'd bought in the museum shop. Old Woman Reading.
Anne at a desk, writing.
They crossed a metal suspension bridge over a canal. Both sides of the structure bristled with padlocks.
"It must be some kind of love fest."
A thing that really took his breath away was Norman Foster's roof over the Great Court at the British Museum - the audacity and brilliance of it.
  • "It's all going far too well," said Gerry. "A bad omen."
    • Ch 1 - p.20 [Page numbers per the Penguin Random House UK 2017 paperback.]
  • "Alcohol is the rubber tyres between me and the pier." He held up his glass to her. They chinked.
    • Ch 2 - p.27
  • She found a large and classy department store. Like any other city, Amsterdam was full of shops which sold things that nobody wanted. Or the kind of things some people wanted but nobody needed.
    • Ch 3 - p.52
  • Since Belfast, he always sat in a chair facing the door.
    • Ch 3 - p.56
  • Now that they had mobile phones, theoretically it should have been easier to keep tabs on one another. But practically it had not helped. In the first instance you had to remember to bring the bloody thing with you. If you had it with you, invariably one or other of the mobiles was switched off or needed charging. And then, even if you did get through, Stella's phone had some mysterious setting which diverted incoming calls straight to 'Leave a message'. And her phone did not ring. And she did not answer it.
    • Ch 3 - p.56-57
  • Look, see, behold. Above all, listen.
    • Ch 3 - p.68
  • He succeeded in persuading her back to look at The Jewish Bride.
    There was a crowd gathered around it. It was huge, big as a hoarding, a great slash of browns and yellows and reds. Two figures, a man and a woman on the edge of intimacy, or perhaps just after, about to coorie in to one another. Hands. Hands everywhere. A painting about touch. Stella joined the crowd and wormed her way to the front. Gerry watched her bite her lip as she gazed. She became aware of Gerry watching her. He excused himself and threaded his way to her side.
    "There's a great tenderness in him," she said. "You can see he cherishes her."
    "Look at that big hand of his," Gerry said. "And the sleeve. Like a big croissant. The way he's put the paint on."
    "And the faces," she said. "But she's not so sure. Shy, yes. Sure, no. What sumptuous clothes." She pointed out the groom's hand around the woman's shoulder and his other hand resting on her breast. The bride's touch of the groom's hand.
    • Ch 4 - p.85
  • She rummaged in her bag and produced a postcard she'd bought in the museum shop. Old Woman Reading. It was not the painting she had seen but a different one. When she'd asked for the postcard the assistant had shrugged and said they were out of it. There are many old women reading, she said.
    The assistant had offered her another, even better, card. An old woman, cowled in some dark material, looking down at a book. It was so lovely - the concentration in the eyes, the luminescence of the ancient face reflected from the page, the interior light from reading whatever was printed there.
    • Ch 4 - p.89
  • When they finally got into the foyer there were some enlarged black and white photographs. Anne in her school playground before the war. Anne in the street with friends. Anne at a desk, writing.
    • Ch 6 - p.122
  • They crossed a metal suspension bridge over a canal. Both sides of the structure bristled with padlocks. Some of the brass locks had felt-tipped names written on them. 'Don + Gwen', 'Micky & Minnie', 'Leo n Leonora'. One had a message written on it. 'Graham and Vickey. I love you more than Coco Pops.'
    "It must be some kind of love fest," Gerry said.
    "Clamped for ever."
    "Have you seen this kinda thing before?"
    "I've heard of it."
    "It'll be the young ones."
    "Trendy ones."
    • Ch 6 - p.133
  • A thing that really took his breath away was Norman Foster's roof over the Great Court at the British Museum - the audacity and brilliance of it. The approach inside the building from a periphery of darkness into the thrilling light at its centre - the largest covered square in Europe - was utterly wonderful.
    • Ch 7 - p.148
  • Stella was telling the clerk that there was a Catholic church in the heart of the red-light district called 'Our Dear Lord in the Attic'. "Would there be Mass there?"
    "No, I do not think so." The clerk shook his head. "It is now a museum."
    "All religion should be in museums," Gerry said.
    • Ch 8 - p.161
  • The coffee was good and the first sip made him want a cigarette. His hand went to his pocket before he realised it was decades since he'd had a smoke. The desire came out of nowhere. He thought how foolish, how stuck in routine the body becomes. Would the same thing happen if he tried to give up drinking?
    • Ch 8 - p.165
  • On the wall above the sink was a board, with tools clipped to it. A hammer, screwdrivers - a pair of pliers, a hacksaw. And other stuff. Each item was outlined carefully in red paint.
    "I like your board arrangement," said Stella.
    "It's to remind me to put things back. If I don't, the empty ghost yells at me. So I put things back."
    • Ch 9 - p.181
  • You know how vivid things are in extremis. There's something going on in the brain. Chemicals. They make the moment indelible."
    • Ch 9 - p.187
  • Stella found herself isolating one particular snowflake - a small one - and watching its progress. Lifting, floating, eddying upwards, sinking among the others. Dithering. Then when it went off her radar she would choose another and watch it and will it to survive for as long as possible.
    • Ch 10 - p.197
  • "What happened to you? You're nothing but appetite."
    • Ch 10 - p.198
  • He wanted to pray but couldn't because he no longer believed. Prayer was just an intense wishing.
    • Ch 10 - p.207
  • "Believers. I mean, where have they all gone?"
    • Ch 11 - p.215
  • Gerry had once said to her in the middle of an argument that he didn't believe in souls but if, just perchance, they did exist, hers would be like a razor. She had been made that way by the Catholic Church, he said. Inflexible, narrow, capable of doing terrible damage by her adherence to rules and systems. But she totally objected. She told him that if she was a good person at all, it had come from her religion. If she had any sense of justice and fairness, any concept of equality, then it had come from the Church.
    • Ch 11 - p.217
  • When she emptied the kettle she always filled it for the benefit of the next person.
    • Ch 11 - p.227
  • "There's nobody can fix this but yourself. You are the only one who can make the changes."
    • Ch 11 - p.236

Short Stories[edit]

The Great Profundo and Other Stories (1987)[edit]

  • "Four pounds?"
    Still the woman hesitated.
    "Any less and it'd be a favour," he said. Already he was out of pocket. He stood up to end the bargaining.
    • Short story, "Words the happy say", p.11 [Page numbers per the 1989 Penguin paperback]
  • A summer insect flew into the metal dome of the Anglepoise and knocked around like a tiny knuckle.
    • Short story, "Words the happy say", p.16
  • On the wall above the desk was an ikon he had bought in Thessaloníki - he afterwards discovered that he had paid too much for it. It had been hanging for some months before he noticed, his attention focused by a moment of rare idleness, that Christ had a woodworm hole in the pupil of his left eye. It was inconspicuous by its position, and rather than detracting from the impact, he felt the ikon was enhanced by the authenticity of this small defect.
    • Short story, "The break", p.18
  • "Sit down, son, don't loom."
    • Short story, "The break", p.20
  • "It concentrates the mind wonderfully knowing that this [life] is all we can expect."
    • Short story, "The break", p.25
  • I come from the kind of house where if my father saw me with a book in my hand he'd say, "Can you not find something better to do?"
    • Short story, "The drapery man", p.31
  • Neil offered his arm as she lowered herself from the step to the ground.
    "What a polite young man."
    "That's my mother's fault."
    • Short story, "More than just the disease", p.50
  • It is disconcerting to find that an acquaintance considers you his best friend, his soul mate, but I could do nothing about it.
    • Short story, "In the hills above Lugano", p.51
  • "But listen to this," Kathleen laughed and wheezed. "We had been talking about books. He tells me he reads a lot - as a matter of fact he's book mad - and when I came in with the tea I said 'Do you like Earl Grey?' and he says, 'I don't know. What did he write?' Isn't that marvellous?" Mary smiled and nodded while Kathleen giggled uncontrollably.
    • Short story, "End of season", p.68
  • He continued talking. "When you find out about real education you can never leave it alone. I don't mean A-levels and things like that - you are just proving something to yourself with them - but books, ideas, feelings. Everything to do with up here." He tapped his temple. "And here." He tapped the middle of his chest.
    • Short story, "End of season", p.73
  • INTERVIEWER: (After an awkward silence) And how do you see the future?
    PROFUNDO: I wait for it to come and then look at it (laughs).
    • Short story, "The Great Profundo", p.104
  • "You can't choose your children."
    • Short story, "Some surrender", p.119
  • "There's not much you can do in this world without people getting to know."
    • Short story, "Across the street", p.132

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