Bernard MacLaverty was born in Belfast (14.9.42) and lived there until 1975 when he moved to Scotland. He is one of today’s best-known writers on the British Isles. Very often he returns in his stories and novels to his native island, describing in human terms the conflict that has troubled its people for so many years. The short story “Father and son” from one of his short story collections called “A Time to Dance & Other Stories” (1982), tells us the story of one such family who have been affected by the conflict between the Catholics and the Protestants in Northern Ireland. The novel “Cal” (1983) and his latest novel “The Anatomy School” (2001) are also good examples of his passion to share the experiences of the violent times in Northern Ireland, and his home city; Belfast.
MacLaverty received the Award from Scottish Arts Council in 1982, and arts award from the Irish Sunday Independent in 1983, both for “A Time to Dance & Other Stories”.
“Father and Son” is a story about the relationship between a widower father and his teenage son. They live in Belfast, in a neighbourhood with a lot of violence. At night they can hear the sound of ambulances criss-crosses the dark. Both the son and the father are scared to sleep at night, but the son will not admit his fears to his father. The father is concerned for his son’s life. They used to have a good relationship. They went fishing, talked and laughed, and the father could put his arms around his son. But two years before this story takes place the son went to London and got mixed up with drug addicts. His father had to come and collect him, and help him back to life. After the son got back on his feet their relationship changed. Now the son will no longer tell his father how he feel, or anything about his whereabouts. When the father asks, the son answer in anger that it is not his business. He tells his father to leave him alone, creating a distance to his father. The father is disturbed and sad for the situation. At the same time he is also very scared that something should happen to him or his son. When the father discovers that his son have a gun in his bedroom he asks him what it is. The son answer by kicking the door shut in his father’s face. While the father is doing the dishes and watching the news, the doorbell rings. The son answers the door. A friend of him had come to visit. But suddenly there is a bang, and the father finds his son lying dead on the floor. Now he could put his arms around his son.
The theme of the story is first of all the relationship between a concerned father and his distanced teenage son. The father shows an over concerned parental responsibility for his almost adult son. But his reasons are good, and his concerns are natural due to the fact that they live in a troubled area. It is also a story about a child growing up in the middle of a local war, without both his parents there to support him. The father tries the best he can, but he can never replace a mother. And when he tries to act like a mother, the son finds his behaviour silly. In a short way the story tell us about the violence in the everyday that the people in Northern Ireland had to face, and how this could damage a peaceful family life.
Both the father and the son are main characters in the story. The author tells us the story trough both of them. We get to know the father mostly through the son’s point of view, and the son through the father’s opinions. The father is a scared man. He is so scared that something bad is going to happen that he takes every precaution that is possible. He eats valium all day to calm him self down. And he thinks that maybe he worries too much for his son, but he can’t let go. His son thinks of him as an old woman, a coward. But the son does not understand how it is like to be a parent. The son is filled with hatred against the Protestants, he has probably joined the IRA and now he wants out. It is a difficult situation for him; he will not drag his father into this mess so instead of telling him about his troubles he takes distance from him. He does it by showing his father hatred and acting tough.
Knowing the history of Northern Ireland, and knowing that the story takes place in Belfast it is easy to understand both the father and the son. We know that this story was written before the peace negotiations between the sides in the country. And we also know how the IRA and the UVF fought against each other with heavy weaponry and killing violence. It is no wonder that the father was scared, and that the son wanted out of the IRA. But the IRA did not accept that a member wanted to leave. He knew too much, therefore the only way to leave was by dying.
I would say that the story does not have an exact highlight or a turning point. All from the beginning you are thinking that something is going to happen, and it does. The son is killed. The surprise was that he in fact knew his own killer. All through the story we get information about and from both of the main characters, and the story is never building up to a scene. It is told from two angles, which can be confusing sometimes. But it is the information you get in-between the lines that you think about after you have read it. It is when you think about the things in history that does not stand in the story you get the real message of the story. And the message is simple; this is how everyday violence can affect a normal family.
The story is filled with feelings, opinions and anxiety. This is possible, it may as well be a real family’s story. The fact that this could have happened for real, and most likely something very similar has happened, makes this story serious. I will not call the story entertaining; it is too serious to be called anything else but serious. I can’t find the words to describe what I think of the story. But I know I liked it, in the informative way. It gave me a glimpse into the troubled lives the people in Northern Ireland had to live through everyday, and we here in Norway did not bother to know about. It is a sad story.