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No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

No Great Mischief (1999)

by Alistair MacLeod

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
A beautiful book about a family in/from the Canadian Maritimes, their hard lives, their loves and the land itself. This man can WRITE! Every sentence is a poem. You feel what they feel, smell what they smell and love what/who they love! ( )
  Rdra1962 | Aug 1, 2018 |
Wow, what a great book this was. I am still processing parts of it so I will leave my final comments until after my book club has discussed it. My initial thoughts are that MacLeod must have had a very interesting family life himself to be able to write something like this. It made me wish I knew more of my family history but I never heard any stories beyond my grandparents' generation. I think there must be something about that Celtic blood that connects people with their roots.

I also found the relationships between the people and their animals interesting. I can just see that little brown dog swimming out to the boat as it was leaving Scotland. Then there was the other dog who guarded the lighthouse island after calamity claimed the parents and one brother. Calum had his devoted Christy who pulled his boat up above the waterline every evening. And there was even a mention of a cat that was thrown out of a car that was saved by the brothers and brought home to Cape Breton. There can't be much wrong with a family that cares for animals like that!

Until I read some of the comments on line about this book I didn't realize how few names of the family were actually given. Only Calum and Alexander had their names explicitly mentioned and of course those names are held by multiple people. I'll be interested to see what my book club thinks of that. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 10, 2017 |
Totally my cup of tea - Cape Breton family, clannish, told from the pov of an adult remembering his childhood, the loss of his parents, his grandparents, and older brothers. Really really beautiful novel.

I had to read the ending about 3 times. Perfect stuff. ( )
  laurenbufferd | Nov 14, 2016 |
Took me longer to read than I was expecting. I got a little lost in the middle and was a little unsure who the narrator was, but generally enjoyed the story, once I got all the MacDonalds sorted out. It's full of some big characters and the lovely, long thread of family history. ( )
  Fliss88 | Sep 10, 2016 |
"The ‘lamp of the poor’ is hardly visible in urban southwestern Ontario, although there are many poor who move disjointedly beneath it. And the stars are seldom clearly seen above the pollution of prosperity."

This, in short, is what I liked about the book. Yes, I do mean that particular quote.

I know this is one of those books that a lot of people seem to really like, and I can understand why, but for me this was a frustrating and really annoying read. To the extent that I even got annoyed with things I would not usually pay much attention to, like "Why is the guy's Gaelic name spelled in two different ways?".

To paraphrase the author himself:

"She could not help it, I suppose. Sometimes it is hard to choose or not to choose those things which bother us at the most inappropriate of times."

Anyway, No Great Mischief tells the stories of a family from when they first left Scotland for Canada in 1779 up to late 1970s/1980s (it's not really clear). There are plenty of colourful characters, plenty of stories of hardship, and an abundance of nostalgic references to Scotland - or rather one single event in Scottish history. For the most part, the references were limited to the Battle of Culloden and the Jacobite Uprising (around 1745/46).

And this, together with the nostalgia for anything Gaelic just really got on my nerves rather quickly.
Don't get me wrong I have rather a soft spot for Gaelic and I delight in watching BBC Alba sometimes just to hear it while reading the subtitles, but we're talking about a story relying on a few overused phrases and pretending as if everyone with the last name of MacDonald is fluent in it.

As for the Jacobite Uprising...Really, there is more to Scottish history and not everything that happened to the MacDonalds of Cape Breton in the 20th century can be blamed on or explained by a reference to an event in 1745/46.

Let me illustrate...

One of the MacDonald's relatives living in California is being drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and his parents send him to the branch of the family in Cape Breton to escape the draft. And the discussion is as follows:

" ‘From what I understand of this war,’ he continued, ‘those people are only fighting for their own country and their own way of being. It’s hard to say they should be killed for that.’
‘I know,’ I said. ‘Wars touch all of us in different ways. I suppose we have been influenced by lots of wars ourselves. We are probably what we are because of the ’45. We are, ourselves , directly or indirectly the children of Culloden Moor, and what happened in its aftermath.’
‘Yes,’ he said with a smile, ‘the old men at home, the seanaichies, always used to say, “If only the ships had come from France …”
’‘Maybe,’ I said. ‘We’ll never know. Perhaps it was all questionable from the start. Talking about history is not like living it, I guess. Some people have more choice than others.’ "

Aha, yup. Culloden. Of course. Everything can be traced back to Culloden. No mention of the Union of Crowns, the bribery surrounding the Darien scheme, and the resulting Act of Union. Or why not go back further to the wars of Scottish independence?

Incidentally, I do get that part of the book's message is how people might be held back by living in the past - or as MacLeod puts it:

" ‘Living in the past is not living up to our potential.’ "

It's just that this message - conveyed as a joke - is rather muddled by a lot sentimental illusion. ( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 52 (next | show all)
He does not take readers to as many different places and psyches as his country's very best writer, Alice Munro, but he indelibly renders a Cape Breton we are never likely to visit -- a terrain where the ''dog days'' are the coldest, not the muggiest, and where the ocean wind has forced enough sand into the trees that ''when the saw passed through them in the early darkness of the fall and winter evenings, streaks of blue and orange flame shot from them.''

» Add other authors (1 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alistair MacLeodprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bernascone, RossellaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Helmond, Joop vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martínez-Lage… MiguelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Tarkka, HannaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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This book is for Anita, "mo bhean 's mo ghraidh."
Appreciation also to our chidren: Alexander, Lewis,
Kenneth, Marion, Daniel, and Andrew.
Not to forget our lost son Donald.
First words
As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375726659, Paperback)

For the MacDonalds, the past is not a foreign country. This Cape Breton clan may have lived in the New World since 1779, when Calum Ruadh ("the red Calum") and his wife, 12 children, and dog landed. Scotland, however, remains their true home. So profound is their connection to their lost land that on brief visits they find themselves welcomed by strangers. When one descendent tells a Scotswoman that she's from Canada, she is offered a gentle rejoinder: "That may be.... But you are really from here. You have just been away for a while." In some ways this is unsurprising, since the MacDonalds either have deep black hair or their ancestor's coloring. And those with the latter have "eyes that were so dark as to be beyond brown and almost in the region of glowing black. Such individuals would manifest themselves as strikingly unfamiliar to some, and as eerily familiar to others." Another sport of nature? Many are fraternal twins, including Alistair MacLeod's narrator, Alexander, and his sister.

But No Great Mischief is far more than the straightforward saga of one family over the generations. Instead the author has created a painfully beautiful myth in which the long-ago is in many ways more present than modern existence. Even in the last decades of the 20th century, the MacDonalds fall into Gaelic--its inflections, rhythms, and song--with deep nostalgia. This is a family that is used to composing itself in the face of disaster. They often assure one another, "My hope is constant in thee," and in the light of their many losses, the clan must cling to its motto.

No Great Mischief begins with Alexander's visit to Toronto, where his eldest brother now subsists on a diet of drink and memories. The narrator, a successful orthodontist, doesn't have much to do with the former but is unable (or unwilling) to escape the latter. As the novel proceeds, Alexander fills in his family history, including such key episodes as his great-great-grandfather's self-exile from Scotland. Though Calum Ruadh had intended to leave his dog behind, it broke away and tried to catch up with him. MacLeod piercingly captures the animal's struggle as her master first tries to make her head for shore and then--realizing she won't desert him--spurs her on. Throughout No Great Mischief various people recall this incident, an emblem of intensity, hope, and dependence. A descendant of the bitch is also on hand when Alexander's parents and one of his brothers disappear under the ice on a cold spring night. She persists in searching for her people and tries to protect their lighthouse from the new keeper, receiving in return "four bullets into her loyal waiting heart." When Alexander's grandfather hears of her death, he uses a phrase that becomes one of the book's litanies, "It was in those dogs to care too much and to try too hard."

This is a MacDonald characteristic as well. A good deal of No Great Mischief's strength stems from scenes of longing and despair--for those who die for a lost cause, whether in 1692 when one leader is killed ("the redness of his hair dyed forever brighter by the crimson of his blood") or in an Ontario uranium mine where one brother is decapitated. MacLeod evokes his clan, and the elemental beauty of their landscape, in quiet, precise language that gains power with each repetition. (A sentence such as "All of us are better when we're loved" comes to acquire a near proverbial ring.) If he occasionally tips his hand too much, pressing home his point that present-day prosperity isn't all it's cracked up to be, no matter. I doubt that this inspired and elegiac novel will ever leave those who are lucky enough to read it--proving after all the persistence of the clann Chalum Ruaidh. --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:02:34 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

After a spate of local robberies Vicky's hot on the trail of gypsies, tramps and thieves! When shortly afterwards there is a slew of sliver thefts in the area, blaming the despised uninvited guests. But when the body of an unnamed woman is found in a shallow stream, Vicky suspects there's a connection between the murder and the thefts.… (more)

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