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No Great Mischief [Paperback]

Alistair MacLeod
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 25 2001
Alexander MacDonald guides us through his family’s mythic past as he recollects the heroic stories of his people: loggers, miners, drinkers, adventurers; men forever in exile, forever linked to their clan. There is the legendary patriarch who left the Scottish Highlands in 1779 and resettled in “the land of trees,” where his descendents became a separate Nova Scotia clan. There is the team of brothers and cousins, expert miners in demand around the world for their dangerous skills. And there is Alexander and his twin sister, who have left Cape Breton and prospered, yet are haunted by the past. Elegiac, hypnotic, by turns joyful and sad, No Great Mischief is a spellbinding story of family, loyalty, exile, and of the blood ties that bind us, generations later, to the land from which our ancestors came.

From the Hardcover edition.

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No Great Mischief + Island: The Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod + As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories
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From Publishers Weekly

MacLeod, a Canadian of Scottish lineage, has earned a sterling reputation north of the border based on two collections of stories (Barometer Rising; As Birds Bring Forth the Sun), and with his first novel he will only add to that acclaim. Already a bestseller in Canada, No Great Mischief (the title comes from General Wolfe's callous reaction to the death of Highlanders enlisted in Britain's efforts to wrestle Canada from France--"No great mischief if they fall") tells the sprawling story of one Scottish clan, the MacDonalds, who come to Cape Breton from Scotland in the 18th century and struggle valiantly to maintain their pride and identity up through the end of the millennium. The narrative is in the hands of a rather staid Ontario orthodontist, Alexander MacDonald, who comes to Toronto to aid his alcoholic older brother, Calum, who is down on his luck in a shabby rooming house and in need of company and a supply of liquor. The two will eventually drive to their beloved Cape Breton where the family patriarch is buried at the edge of a cliff, and along the way the family saga is relived, retold, recast. Alexander, it turns out, was orphaned at age three, along with his twin sister, when both parents fell through the ice when returning to the lighthouse where Alex's father was the keeper. His three much older brothers were already on their own, fishing off the Breton coast, tangling with French-Canadians in mineral mines, drinking hard in bunkhouses, while the twins are raised in relative comfort by doting grandparents. Calum, who seems to carry the legacy of the original Calum MacDonald (who lost his wife on the voyage from Scotland in 1779, leaving him with six children, to which he would add six more), is the dark light, like a bottle of whiskey, through which MacLeod's account is refracted. What emanates is a loving retrieval of a people's native strategy of survival through history and across a changing landscape. Though at times the narrative is confusing, it is cannily so: there are three Alexander MacDonalds to keep track of; there are familial ties that seem filial, then avuncular and then estranged. But the overall effect is authenticity, and the lack of irony is as bracing as the cold spray of the North Atlantic. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

From the moment Alexander MacDonald sets out along Highway 3 in southwestern Ontario to visit his alcoholic brother living in a cheap Toronto lodging house, this sturdily textured debut novel never hesitates or meanders. There are plenty of diverse characters, changing scenes, and gripping incidents to keep it rolling. Four generations of MacDonalds move through the pages of this bookDfrom the first to arrive in Cape Breton from Scotland in 1779 to narrator Alexander, an orthodontist, and his siblings. MacLeod, who has been heralded in his native Canada as a master of the short story, exhibits a remarkable ability to create and handle an intricate plot that goes back and forth between past and present. Though sentimentality plays a considerable part in the unfolding of the drama, MacLeod's clever writing disciplines and subdues it. The book deserves to be a big popular success.DA.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars No Great Mischief April 21 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
a very enjoyable read, fluid poetry like prose-gives you an appreciation for the east coast history of canada. It is not action packed, and definitely a little depressing, it reminded me a bit of love in the time of cholera-another acclaimed novel.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stylistic Essay April 28 2005
Macleod's No Great Mischief, like Margaret Laurence's Bird In The House, is an essay disguised as a beautifully written story. Unlike Laurence's exposition on freedom, Macleod's novel revolves around loyalty. I love books like this. Once you unravel the philosophy of the author (or maybe just the narrator) the essay is a piece of art. Imagine reading someone's thesis that simply weighed the pros and cons of familial and cultural loyalty in point form. Needless to say it wouldn't be the most exciting read. That's not to say that anyone will be blown away by the action in this novel either. But the poetic language in this book, with such a bombardment of sybmolism and settings described better than in paintings, would be absent from the drier point-form essay.
I was also amazed at how Canadian this book is. It is perhaps the most Canadian book I have ever read. And if anyone thinks it only relates to Cape Breton, they've surely missed the point. Canada is a multicultural country, not a melting pot and that is just the sort of loyalty Macleod examines, not just in the Cape Breton clan, but also in the French, the Newfoundlanders, the Jamaicans and the others which get varying degrees of mention. And while the setting mostly fluctuates between Nova Scotia and Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and a few other Canadian places pop up as well.
At times, like in other Macleod works, this book can become a downer. Pervasive in everything he writes is the loss theme; loss of culture, loss of life, etc. So don't read this book if you're looking for a light fluffy book, but if you're in the mood for a thinker, give it a try.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Profound July 22 2004
It is hard to find the words to describe the beauty of Alistair MacLeods novel "No Great Mischief". It is truly, storytelling at its best. As you read, it is like you are listening. The trials, tribulations, loss, spirituality and love that the narrator experiences throughout his life are rich and poignant. So many times I had to put the book down because I was so emotional about the story. His descriptions of his grandparents, sister, brothers and their natures and personalities were tremendous. Although I am not from Cape Breton Island, I am Canadian and of Scottish descent and I felt that the commonalities between the narrator's family life and my own were uncanny. Alistair MacLeod is in my opinion the greatest writer of our time.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet, low key and beautifully understated May 17 2002
By A Customer
If anyone should doubt the book critics' relevance in guiding readers' choices, look no further than Alistair MacLeod's "No Great Mischief (NGM)". If not for its constant appearance on their notable reads list, the publication of NGM would likely have gone unnoticed because it's a low key unshowy kind of book that's unlikely to attract attention. But thanks to them, I have discovered a gem about one's family, clan, and roots. Quiet, reflective, and lovingly narrated by a modern day MacDonald in Ontario, the story traces the history of the MacDonalds back to the 17th Century when its first immigrant parent arrived from Scotland to settle in Canada, desperate and poor. The author takes certain liberties with chronology - eg, toggling between scenes of the narrator as a successful dentist and a coal miner working alongside his older brothers can be a challenge - but it's consistent with the story's dreamlike quality. Recurring images or memories unfold like a chorus that locks you into the rhythmn of the song. There are many scenes that are simply unforgettable and will remain firmly etched in your mind, like that of the dead immigrant's wife being offloaded into the sea, the family dog swimming against the tide into the arms of its owner, the tragic ice accident that claimed his parents' lives, his brothers melting ice from buckets to make their morning coffee, the horrific decapitation of a MacDonald in the mines, etc. These floating images, coupled with the impression that the MacDonalds have multiplied like rabbits and all but conquered Ontario, only serves to reinforce the novel's theme of blood and kinship. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I remembered July 4 2014
By Sasha
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Not as good as I remembered. I initially read it in university and on hearing of the author's recent death wanted to re-read it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down..... June 12 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Alistar MacLeod......what an incredible mind! I truly couldn't put this book down and read it in two sittings...and will read it again

a few times. I was continuously astounded at how this man could write this kind of story , in such detail,and make us feel it was his own life. The story was "alive." He will be sorely missed by so many.
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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I read this book a number of years ago and, when Alistair Macleod passed away, I decided to reread it. I am delighted that I did. The characterizations are so real and the storytelling so perfectly woven that I could not put it down.

For anyone who has never read this iconic Canadian author No Great Mischief is a great place to start!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Alistair MacLeod, thank you for this book
Anyone with a dram of Scottish blood will be affected by No Great Mischief - it broke my heart and mended it a dozen times. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Zee
5.0 out of 5 stars No Great Mischief
Loved this book. The historical data and description of traditions practiced by different groups was exceptional and was close to my roots. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Judith McLennan
5.0 out of 5 stars Truely Beautiful
A stunning and beautiful read. I am from Cape Breton and am proud that Alistair is as well of course. It doesn't matter that he was born in Saskatchewan, he's a Caper. Read more
Published 12 months ago by mitchcumstien
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Condition
Thank you Amazon, I bought this book for much cheaper than at my University bookstore ... it is in good condition with a minor rip but for this price it is awesome!
Published 12 months ago by Renata
5.0 out of 5 stars the ties that bind
Although this book is about a Cape Breton family with celtic roots, this story is universal and anyone living anywhere could relate to the message that blood IS thicker than water,... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2010 by Halifax Mary
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, elegaic, thoughtful, and potent
This book is extremely powerful, for a book that is ultimately quiet and composed primarily of remembrances of things past. Read more
Published on March 8 2009 by Gordon Neufeld
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
For a man born in North Battleford SK (not in Cape Breton), he captures our way of life.
Published on Dec 7 2004
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