No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod (Ibis3's CanLit 101 Book#9)

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From the back cover:
"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 descendants 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, and of the blood ties that bind us to the land from which our ancestors came."

This book won one of the most prestigious (and the most lucrative) literary awards in the world, The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, in 2001. It prompted the Globe and Mail to declare "MacLeod is MacLeod, the greatest living Canadian writer and one of the most distinguished writers in the world. No Great Mischief is *the* book of the year--and of this decade. It is a once-in-a-lifetime masterpiece."



to reading it, especially after the comments of Ibis3.


I just spent the morning reading it when I ought to have been working. I thought I'd just read a chapter (and the chapters are very short), but I must have read 80 pages or so. Usually that only happens for me with plot-driven books like mysteries etc. and this one is more driven by atmosphere.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I am!


I thought I'd just read a bit before bed. Ended up staying awake until I finished. A very difficult book to put down--luckily it's not that long. Which is not surprising considering that MacLeod is a master of the short story.

It was a little different than I expected, though in structure a little like the story Vision from Island.

A man, visiting his alcoholic elder brother in a Toronto slum, recollects episodes from his own life and stories he's been told by others about his own earliest years, about his family's history, about the experiences of his grandparents and siblings. It really is a wonderful book and unusual in that neither plot nor character are the driving forces here. As I mentioned above, it's a book where atmosphere is the central element upon which everything else hangs.

It seems so effortless, but in contemplating the novel with its interwoven stories and recurring imagery one has to conclude that the ease is illusory and in itself a sign of MacLeod's genius.

Another unusual aspect of the novel is its narrative quality. At one point the narrator, Alexander, refers to the 'hearers' of the story rather than the 'readers'. This goes back to MacLeod's belief that he is a storyteller in the line of storytellers and not just a writer on a dead page. He writes as though he's sitting in your kitchen, telling you the histories of a life and a family.

I read somewhere that MacLeod wanted to write a book about loyalty and this was the result.


I did find that as an Atlantic Canadian I *knew* myself a little bit better after reading this novel - and understood better my place in the world. There's nothing like being told outright that it is *No great mischief* should one perish...

*Having fought against Bonnie Prince Charlie's loyal Scottish Highlanders at the bloody battle of Culloden in 1746, General James Wolfe had neither affection for nor trust in the Scottish soldiers he enlisted to lead the charge against the French forces on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec in 1759. Hence his dismissive remark concerning the Highlanders that gives the novel its title: ``They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall.''*


> I did find that as an Atlantic Canadian I
> *knew* myself a little bit better after
> reading this novel- and understood better
> my place in the world. There's nothing
> like being told outright that it is *No
> great mischief* should one perish...

To some degree it did. I think moreso because of the fact that this is about Canadians and Canada than because of any direct relevance to my own background (my family is mostly from Quebec on my mum's side and from Alberta on my dad's). I loved the way he interwove the strands of the past--the Highlanders in Scotland and at the Plains of Abraham--with the present. In that respect I think it mirrors the experience of many of us whose families immigrated here in the 17th and 18th centuries. MacLeod's short stories also have this quality to which you refer.


I read this over the weekend and just want to record how very much I enjoyed it. He's an author new to me and I was so impressed with his wonderful way with words that I've just ordered Island from the library. Can't wait to read that one as well. No Great Mischief was recommended to me as we'll be visiting Cape Breton Island in June as part of a fortnight's holiday in the Maritimes. Now that I've read it once to know What Happens, I plan to read it again before we go, more slowly next time, to immerse myself in the atmosphere, history and culture etc. He's a real artist as he paints his word pictures. Thank you to the BookCrossers who recommended this book to me.


I just bought this yesterday. With recommendations like these, who could resist?


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