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No Great Mischief Paperback – Jan 25 2001

4.4 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Emblem Editions; 1 edition (Jan. 25 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0771055706
  • ISBN-13: 978-0771055706
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 1.6 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #6,798 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
“No Great Mischief” by Alastair McLeod is a mythical history of a MacDonald clan family which immigrated to Cape Breton several centuries ago, as viewed by one of the present generation.
The novel is imbued with a sense of tragedy born of the defeat of the Scots by the English at Culloden and the poverty of the Scots existence. This culture and sense of their place in the world is transmitted to the Canadian context, where the transplanted Scots experience ethnic animosity with the French Canadians and Mexican migrant farm workers and the difficulty in eking out a living in an inhospitable new land. Indeed, the title is a quotation from General Wolfe who remarks that the deaths of the Highlanders about to fight at the Plains of Abraham would be “no great mischief”, meaning that it would not be particularly significant or troubling.
Much of the story is conveyed via dialogue, primarily between the present day Alexander Macdonald and his twin sister and with his older brother Calum. The language embodies both a sense of fatalism and the intense sentiment of clan family loyalty, but in my opinion the tragic side of life definitely predominates. Case in point: when the narrator is but an infant, both parents fall through the ocean ice and die while attempting to cross to the lighthouse that they operate.
The first scene is a visit by Alexander to the alcoholic Calum, living in a down-and-out flop house on Queens Street in Toronto. A significant part of the narrative concerns Calum and Alexander and other members of the Macdonald family working at an isolated wilderness mine north of Sudbury.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
I first became interested in reading this novel when my mother pointed it out to me, saying the story of the family described within it was similar to how her family came over from Scotland in 1922. Reading it, I found that the legendary ancestor of MacLeod’s first person narrator came over during the eighteenth century, in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. Slightly different eras (well, around 200 years), but still a similar experience.

I first read Alistair MacLeod in my first semester of English Literature at McGill, in Canadian Literature 2, a course taught by Robert Lecker. I had read one of MacLeod’s short stories “The Boat,” and came to appreciate MacLeod as a great Canadian author writing out of his experience living on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia. One interesting story about his habits as a writer is that he never writes on a computer, but composes the sentences he is about to write in his head first, before carefully writing the fully-formed sentence on paper. Each word in his novel appears to have been chosen carefully and specifically, confirming his particular method of composition.

Douglas Gibson, at last year's Blue Metropolis Festival in Montreal says this novel is "Lord Lovat's Lament" set to words. Aye, so 'tis.
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Format: Paperback
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, what that means and why. It begins with a much younger successful brother visiting his older alcoholic brother in a downtown Toronto flop house. We discover that he does this once a month, faithfully brings a bottle to him, and spends some uncomfortable time with him. Why? Where does this sense of loyalty, obligation and duty originate? As the book unfolds and the clock goes backwards, it's clear that Alexander would not be who is he is today without the love and sacrifice of Calem. It's also clear that Calem was not always the down on his luck addict that you see today...there are events and emotions that led him to take this fork in the road. Every addict that you encounter has a story and the obvious addiction is only one part of who that person really is. This book traces just one of those many stories. I too have witnessed the same conflicts between the men in my own family...my generation and the previous one. This book was also turned into a stage production and that was very good as well. Cried reading the book, cried during the play...even cried when the horse died. So it's a tear jerker but one fantastic "car ride"...just remember to take the Kleenex on this road trip!
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