No Great Mischief

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No Great Mischief

by Alistair Macleod

McClelland & Stewart | January 25, 2001 | Trade Paperback

4.1818 out of 5 rating. 33 Reviews
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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.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 296 pages, 8.34 × 5.4 × 0.75 in

Published: January 25, 2001

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771055706

ISBN - 13: 9780771055706

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– More About This Product –

No Great Mischief

by Alistair Macleod

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 296 pages, 8.34 × 5.4 × 0.75 in

Published: January 25, 2001

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0771055706

ISBN - 13: 9780771055706

From the Publisher

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.

About the Author

Alistair MacLeod was born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, in 1936 and raised among an extended family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He still spends his summers in Inverness County, writing in a clifftop cabin looking west towards Prince Edward Island. In his early years, to finance his education he worked as a logger, a miner, and a fisherman, and writes vividly and sympathetically about such work. His early studies were at the Nova Scotia Teachers College, St. Francis Xavier, the University of New Brunswick and Notre Dame, where he took his Ph.D. He has also taught creative writing at the University of Indiana. Working alongside W.O. Mitchell, he was an inspiring teacher to generations of writers at the Banff Centre. In the spring of 2000, MacLeod retired from the University of Windsor, Ontario, where he was a professor of English. He has published two internationally acclaimed collections of short stories: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1986). In 2000, these two books, accompanied by two new stories, were published in a single-volume edition entitled Island: The Collected Stories of Alistair MacLeod . In 1999, MacLeod’s first novel, No Great Mischief , was published to great critical acclaim, and was on national bestseller lists for more than a year. The novel won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction, the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, The Trillium Award for Fiction, the CAA
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From Our Editors

Canadian literary master Alistair MacLeod has spent 13 years rewriting, editing and perfecting this extraordinary tale of Scottish immigration to Canada. No Great Mischief begins in Scotland in 1745 with the fateful revolt on Culloden Moor, when several clans began their exodus to Cape Breton and the Hebrides. The book traces the often violent, always stirring history of Scots in Canada. Through unequalled prose and craftsmanship, MacLeod paints a portrait of a people that are a huge part of Canada's history and culture.

Editorial Reviews

“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.” – Globe and Mail “ No Great Mischief is one of the best Canadian novels I’ve read in years. It’s a tale of truth about people who care for one another and for the living world around them. A lament and a celebration, it will endure.” –Farley Mowat “This is a simply great novel. The simplicity lies in the device of the plot. The greatness lies in its scope, imagination, and execution.…His message beguiles, his prose captivates, and his narrative never loosens a deceptively gentle grip.” –Glasgow Herald “You will find scenes from this majestic novel burned into your mind forever.” –Alice Munro “A triumph of fiction.…[MacLeod’s] storytelling is taut and lucid. His characters possess strength and depth. They linger in your mind.” – The Economist (U.K.) “[A] mesmerizing, evocative story, infused with grace and wisdom.” –Jury Citation, Trillium Award “A powerful, intricate work.…” – Toronto Sun “MacLeod’s world of Cape Breton…has become a permanent part of my own inner library.” – New York Times Book Review “ No Great Mischief feels like a book that’s gone deep
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Bookclub Guide

1. Why might the author have chosen the narrator Alexander to be an orthodontist by profession? Is his choice of profession connected in some way to Calum''s infected tooth episode during their boyhood [p79]? What is Alexander''s attitude towards his own profession? Is he proud or ashamed? He writes that he hopes to make his patients more beautiful than they were before [p62] or, as his grandma might say, he is "in the business of ''improving on God'' " [p103]. How does Alexander''s profession reflect a kind of attempt to find an explanation for his past or to escape from it?

2. When Alexander first arrives at Calum''s apartment, Calum accuses him of being there because of their grandma''s dictum: "Always look after your own blood" [p14]. Does Alexander in fact visit Calum out of obligation? Guilt? What is his relationship with his older brother? Is either one the man who has "everything or nothing" [p71]? How would you describe the author''s treatment of the other two surviving brothers, and how does it affect the reader''s understanding of Alexander''s relationship with his family?

3. Alexander thinks it is not important which liquor he buys for his dying alcoholic brother; rather he reflects, "What is important is that I will return" [p170]. Is Alexander''s trip to his brother''s apartment that afternoon more than just a physical experience? Is it in any way a spiritual homecoming?

4. From an early age, when femininity distinguishes her from the older brothers [p74], Alexander''s sister''s role in the narrative is unique. Why does Alexander choose to tell us about his family and his Scottish heritage through his twin sister''s personal recollections of their family life and her revealing trip back to Scotland? How would you characterize his relationship with his sister? What is the significance of the fact that the author refers to Alexander''s sister by her given name, Catherine, only once [p109], and that occurrence appears not directly from Alexander, but in a letter from their uncle and aunt?

5. In the beginning, the narrator explains, "This is a story of lives which turned out differently than was intended" [p57]. Is it really a matter of lives turning out differently than intended, or are the MacDonald children''s lives a result of the choices they have made? Calum looks at his parents'' death this way: "If I had been with them I might have saved them" [p209]. But Alexander has a different perspective: "If you had been with them you would have gone down too" [p209]. Could Calum''s life have turned out differently if he had felt lucky, instead of guilty? Are Alexander''s and Calum''s lives impacted more by their own personal past or by their entire family''s legacy?

6. Does the saying on the Toronto woman''s T-shirt - "Living in the past is not living up to our potential" [p60] - mirror the message of the novel? How does the past hold back the MacDonald family?

7. At the end of the novel, Grandma describes Grandpa and their "other grandfather" as a balance to each other [p264]. How would you describe the relationship between the grandfathers? Is it like any of the other relationships among family members in the clan? How are the grandfathers'' different feelings about their past and their views of history indicative of their different characters?

8. As related in the novel, General Wolfe describes the members of the MacDonald clan who fought under his command at Quebec by writing in a letter, "They are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall" [p237]. According to historians, Wolfe was referring to the two motives for recruiting the Highlanders to the British Army for King George in the Seven Years'' War: their stamina as well as the possibility of removing them as a threat to the monarchy. Alexander''s grandfather characterized Wolfe''s description as a "cynical comment" [p109], and his sister likens the MacDonald clan to a "great sports team which may have lost faith in its management or its coach, but are out there anyway in the bloodied mud and the smoke, giving their hearts and their sinew not for ''management'' but for the shared history of one another" [pp. 237-8]. Is Wolfe''s description of the MacDonalds a source of pride or a burden to the family? What is the significance of the author''s allusion to Wolfe''s quote for the title of the novel?

9. Why do the family members speak Gaelic to each other more and more as they get older?

10. What role does Alexander play in the Fern Picard incident? How is he both an active participant and an outside observer? In what other places in the novel is he both participant and observer?

11. Does Alexander judge Calum''s behaviour? Fern Picard''s? Alexander MacDonald''s from San Francisco? The narrator comments that sending the stolen money back to Fern Picard is "the fitting thing to do" [p261]. Is that an appropriate choice of words under the circumstances? Is there a presence of morality in the novel? Does Alexander ever give the reader an idea of what he thinks is right and wrong?

12. How would you describe the concept of time in the novel? How do the repeated incidents in which clann Chalum Ruaidh members recognize each other affect the concept of time? Is time linear, or, as in the darkness of the mines, does time seem "to compress and expand almost simultaneously" [p199]?

13. When Alexander''s brother returns to Scotland, in a matter of minutes a fellow clan member spots him and invites him to be his business partner, saying, "If only the ships had come from France" [p263]. The family members greet each other with Robert the Bruce''s quote from 1314, "My hope is constant in thee, Clan Donald" [pp 88, 11, 202]. Are these incidents an example of how the family continues to stick together despite their hardships and differences? Does it sometimes seem as if the family''s reliving of their defeat borders on an absurd, almost existentialist condition?

14. What is the significance of the author''s descriptions of the migrant workers in Ontario and of the Zulu and Masai tribes in Africa? Are all of these races displaced peoples - like clann Chalum Ruaidh? How are they different? Is the description of Alexander''s wife''s brief family history similar or different from these other people''s [p274]? What is the significance of the point in the narrative at which the author chooses to place these particular passages?

15. What is the author''s attitude towards the miners? How are the miners'' lives similar to those of the migrant workers?

16. Echoing like refrains throughout the novel are the mottoes "We are all better when we''re loved" and "Stick with your blood." How are these two concepts manifest in Alexander''s family? What relationships in the tale are governed by the former credo and which ones by the latter?

17. What is the point of Alexander MacDonald having stolen the wallet that precipitated Calum''s attack on Fern, resulting in his ultimate conviction for second-degree murder? Do the MacDonalds simultaneously survive and perish because they "stick with their blood"?

18. The author frequently uses compound metaphors, such as the many metaphors for change on page 72. At what other points in the narrative does the author use this style of compounding metaphors? How does his use of both compound and recurrent metaphors as well as other stylistic devices, such as repetition, reinforce the themes of the novel? How does the author use Gaelic language and music to set the style and tone of the novel? In what ways does the novel itself mimic a Gaelic song?

19. Why do the men of the clann Chalum Ruaidh, in particular Calum, have such strong relationships with animals? What does it say about their characters? How do their relationships with animals compare to their relationships with other men? The author writes of the clann Chalum Ruaidh dogs, "It was in those dogs to care too much and to try too hard" [p57]. Does this describe the dogs or their masters?

20. Alexander explains, "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" [p192]. What is the narrator''s attitude towards affluence - his own and that of others?

21. The author writes, "In the waters near Glencoe perhaps the mythical ''king of the herring'' still swims. If he exists, perhaps he is as complicated as many other leaders. He is regarded as a friend to some, but those who follow him may do so at their peril. In any case there are no MacDonalds who wait for him and his bounty, and perhaps without their beliefs he is just another fish, who should be careful where he swims" [p274]. How does this view of the clan simultaneously capture Grandpa''s and Grandfather''s different views of their common history? What is more crippling to Alexander''s family: the lack of beliefs or the fear of not having any?


Discussion questions provided courtesy of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.

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