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No Great Mischief [Paperback]

Alistair MacLeod
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 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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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Different - not quite what I expected June 26 2001
If you pick up this book and read the back you somehow think that this will be a historical novel - a story of a clan which has made its home in Canada and prospered there. Well this is true enough, the propsering part anyway, but the history is interwoven with a very modern story. This is not a criticism as such, as it is an engaging story, but it is not what I expected at all.
It is in fact the story of today's McDonalds, told in flashback to our narrator's youth and the trials and tribulations that have made him and his family what they are today. It is difficult reading in places - the family have not always had happy lives, but there is a quiet splendour in the telling of that story.
It is a good book - not a great book I fear, as the story rambles a little and there were times when I wondered where it was going. But it is an interesting book as are most books which observe families, and the little bits of history thrown in embroider the story nicely.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful July 8 2001
Beautiful is not a word I use often, but it is appropriate for short and moving novel. Every word, scene, and action in No Great Mischief seems to have been selected with the utmost care and artistry. MacLeod's themes are exile, family loyalty, and the destruction of traditional cultures by the modern world. MacLeod writes about the descendents of Scottish emigrants who settled on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, providing an unsentimental and eloquent picture of the traditional way of life of the poor fishers and farmers of that region. Their powerful family ties, their preservation of Gaelic language and Scots traditions, and the ways in which the modern world erodes these traditions is shown through the story of one extended Cape Breton family. Few will be able to read this book without having to pause to control strong emotions.
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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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5.0 out of 5 stars A misinterpretation of this book I suppose Oct. 20 2001
I just want to clarify a point about No Great Mischief. I am from Cape Breton where the story takes place.
The story may be about the MacDonald clan but it is not exclusive to them. MacLeod tries to emphasize the importance of ancestry especially in the Scottish-Cape Bretoner context. In particular, he advocates the importance of "the land" to Scottish settlers. In highland-Scottish history this element has always been important. I think he points out his contempt for greed but does so to despite a way of life for the MacDonalds and other clans. If you interpret the book as a story about "them" then you will lose the meaning of the entire book; that history is a coming home, epitomized at the end of the book. . .
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5.0 out of 5 stars Spare and haunting July 15 2001
By annie
This book is one of the most beautifully crafted, coherent and moving books I have read in a long time. What he says in one line would take a lesser author twenty. He evokes the kinship of brothers, the importance of history , the impact of chance and the integrity of nature.
His characters ring true and speak in voices you can hear across the table in a Cape Breton kitchen. It would be so easy for a book like this to fall into the toe-tapping, beer swigging , Gaelic caricatures so often served up. It weaves love and tradgedy with humour and grace.
I sat in the hammock at morning chorus with the book and didn't leave until it was finished. Please don't take 10 years to write your next one Alistair.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Well Written Valentine to Nova Scotia Dec 19 2001
Alistair MacLeod has created an incredibly well written novel, and an all out love letter to Cape Breton. Told first person, the book is like sitting down with a grandparent as they recount your family's colorful past. Moody and evocative it's the kind of book to curl up with in front of a fire and let it wash over you.Fans of the book "Cold Mountain" would probably enjoy this as well since it adopts the same steady slow moving pace, while reaching depths of emotion through memory. I only wished I knew the areas of Nova Scotia he was talking about, because that would of made it an even richer reading experience.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
MacLeod"s writings are always enjoyable. This is no exception.
Published 3 days ago by Richard Young
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as I remembered
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.
Published 1 month ago by Sasha
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down.....
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. Read more
Published 2 months ago by charlotte
5.0 out of 5 stars A most poignant Canadian story by a wonderful storyteller!
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. Read more
Published 3 months ago by RHS
4.0 out of 5 stars No Great Mischief
a very enjoyable read, fluid poetry like prose-gives you an appreciation for the east coast history of canada. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Gina Holmes
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 5 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 6 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 13 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 13 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
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