No Great Mischief

No Great Mischief

Paperback | January 25, 2001

byAlistair MacLeod

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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.

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No Great Mischief

Paperback | January 25, 2001
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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...

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 descendent...

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 ...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:304 pages, 8.01 × 5.15 × 0.63 inPublished:January 25, 2001Publisher:McClelland & StewartLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0771055706

ISBN - 13:9780771055706

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Great Mischief Excellent read, the details of life for immigrants to Canada from the 1600's until the present day, and the family continuity with "home" are written about with feeling.
Date published: 2015-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Great Mischief Beautiful, beautiful writing. Every word, crafted with concise detail and poignant description. R.I.P. Dr. Mac.
Date published: 2014-10-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No great mischief Wonderful interesting story.
Date published: 2014-09-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No Great Mischief One of the world's most wonderful books. A deep and moving look at the life of a family with long roots and traditions, sad and wondrous experiences together and how they cared for and looked after each other through many changes. As Gramma said 'we are all better when we're loved'. Amen to that.
Date published: 2014-05-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Saw the play and had to read the book to figure out the plot. Love MacLeod's writhing.
Date published: 2013-11-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Deja vu or are they destined to repeat prior lives of their ancestors? You meet Alexander as he visits his older, alcoholic brother, Calum. Whereby he gives you glimpses into his current life, as well as, tells his story from where it began hundreds of years earlier to help you understand his family or clan, and how they relate to each other. His story tells of heartache, loss, love, warmth, survival, and belonging to the Donald clan is more than just skin deep. Enjoyed.
Date published: 2013-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Beautiful, potent and elegaic This book is extremely powerful, for a book that is ultimately quiet and composed primarily of remembrances of things past. The book evokes the feeling of being connected to an ancestry stretching back at least as far as the Battle of Culloden in 1745, if not further, and how the ethnic divisions of those days still echo among the descendants of the combatants to this day. True, the book is about the Scottish people who settled in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and their trials, but it speaks of something more than that: of the power of memory and ancestral connections that might be true of any culture that finds itself cast up in the modern eclectic world of mixed cultures and races. The final line says it all: All of us are better when we're loved.
Date published: 2009-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from 10/10 for this historical novel I read this with a book club and enjoyed it very much. The male members of the book club found it more to their liking than some of the novels featuring a lot of female characters. The author and content are Canadian and the writing is superb.
Date published: 2008-09-27
Rated out of 5 by from A Poignant Little Novel 'No Great Mischief' is a poignant little novel dedicated to telling the story of a few generations of the MacDonald family descended from a great Scottish clan named after its patriarch, Calum Ruadh (Calum the red) who brought his family to Cape Breton in 1779. The story is being told near the present day by Alexander Macdonald, heir of Calum Ruadh, by way of an interesting merging of his memories and his knowledge of historical facts that tell the tale of the family’s hardships and their unshakable resolve to thrive together amidst the tragedies that befall them. The novel is burdened by a sense of forlorn inevitability, as if this family is at its best only when faced with despairing circumstances that knit them together and reestablish their deep bonds with each other. There are times when this story is almost unbelievably disconsolate, yet it never lacks a touch of sincerity. There are moments of profound symbolism (the freshwater well or the severed trees), and keen aphorisms litter some of the pages (“Sometimes it is hard to choose or not to choose those things which bother us at the most inappropriate of times” [2]; "When you throw things away, I suppose, you never can be sure that they will ever be yours again” [135]; "Talking about history is not like living it, I guess. Some people have more choices than others” [208]), yet the writing never loses touch with its earthy, intimate content. But from beginning to end, this is a story about how love - familial love - overcomes human frailty and the worst of circumstances that we find ourselves in. This theme is a resounding one, and its universality moves this novel into the realm of great literature.
Date published: 2008-08-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Superb storytelling Through 9/10ths of the book, the story's plot takes place over the span of an afternoon. Alexander MacDonald is visiting his eldest brother, Calum, who lives in a one room apartment in the heart of Toronto, and who is dependent on alcohol just to function. During this visit, Alexander relates to the reader stories of the immediate past and involving his immediate family. Interwoven in this narrative are the stories of his immediate ancestors as well as the the stories of Clan Donald. This novel is about identity, and how identity is rooted in places and memory, and suggests that this is universally true. It then asks the question, if ones' ties to place and memory are broken, what becomes of who we are? Peripherally, the book touches on the idea of fate as well. The storytelling is superb. With simple strokes, MacLeod is nevertheless able to give life to these characters whom you will grow attached to. As places play an important role in the novel, MacLeod also works wonderfully with the settings, such as a small region within Cape Breton, or the Queen St. W. district of Toronto, or a mine in northern Ontario. These settings through MacLeod's pen become non-human characters themselves. He's an exemplar of the writer's addage: show, don't tell. At the same time, this storytelling style admits a few weaknesses in this instance. Firstly, it is difficult to find direct references to the narrator's personality and motivations, and thus it is hard to sympathize with Alexander MacDonald. At the same time, however, this may be an intended effect, since the narrator himself is an integral part of this exploration of identity. Perhaps the distance and detachment we feel, is part of MacLeod's thesis of the erosion of his identity. Secondly, there are some scenes of conversations between the narrator and his twin sister, which serves as a device for exposition on Clan Donald history and legend, as well as hinting at the sister's own struggle with identity. While I can't think of a better way to do it, it was nonetheless, a weakness in the novel. The exposition felt dry, and tired. But again, perhaps this was intended. Overall, another great book by a Canadian author.
Date published: 2007-09-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Truly Canadian I enjoyed this book very much. Macleod comes across like a storyteller of old. I can see him as a grandfather talking to a hushed family gathering, describing their history and lore to keep it alive both for future generations and for him. There are two readily apparent themes in this book one of which is associated with the title. I suspect another intended or not refers to the current state of fiscal disparity between Cape Breton and much of the rest of Canada. The characters that are well developed are for the most part male. They are very realistic, memorable and believable. All in all it was a very good read!
Date published: 2006-06-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fantastic No Great Mischief is storytelling at its best by a true master.
Date published: 2006-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great.....Mischief What a wonderful story. I was moved to tears as I read the final words. MacLeod tells a story so well and he has created images that stay with me. I love this book and have gone on to recommend it to everyone that I feel is intelligent and soulfull enough to appreciate such a brilliant read. Read this then read Island Cheers!
Date published: 2005-12-27
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Wow, I wasted my time! This book is one for the fire. Good thing the writer only has one book like this. I felt that he didn't put enough emotion into the book. I'm very emo, and therefor emotional is my thing. I also felt that the way that the author jumped back and forth in the plot line was really confusing, and it never kept my interest. I could see somebody with a little less intelligence enjoying this novel, but somebody as sophisticated as me, that option is impossible.
Date published: 2005-10-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Great Read I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommended it to my family & friends. In fact, this book is one of the few books that touched my soul, perhaps because I am from the East Coast and there is an element of spirituality throughout the book. People from the East Coast have a sense of 'oneness' with the land and I think that makes us different from other regions of the world. The book might have been a little sappy in places to more insensitive people - but I loved it and actually bought it twice when my pal lost the book - I had to have it in my collection and I would most definitely place this book on my top 10 of all time!
Date published: 2005-03-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No Great Mischief is 'No Great deal' Let's not circle around this topic. The point is clear: this is an absolutely boring recollection of one man's past. True, this is a well written memoir. However, what MacLeod fails to see is that not everyone is interested in his life. Okay, so maybe I am too harsh on him. I will give him full credit for the time and effort he took to write and publish this somewhat epic. Nevertheless, I wasted my time in reading it. The Gaelic took the cake. Most of the time I didn't know what he was talking about. Truly I tell you, this book can be passed off as my old History of the Higland Era. It's got the aura, but no necessity. A piece of interpretive literature, I will give it two points out of five for the meaning it has behind it. This review is from the point of view of a non-Scot. I thus don't feel compelled to Scottish history of any sort.
Date published: 2004-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Canadiana I found this to be a quick and enjoyable read. MacLeod paints a beautiful, if somewhat heartbreaking, picture of Cape Bretton. Definitely someplace I'd like to visit after reading this novel. Set in Essex County, with visits to Toronto and flashbacks to Sudbury and Cape Bretton, it doesn't get any more Canadian. I would recommend this book as a nice rendition of our country's history and as a worthwhile read.
Date published: 2003-07-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No Great Book After reading many excellent reviews of this book, I was sorely disappointed when I finally had the opportunity to read it. Hoping for a soaring saga about the Scottish Highlanders who immigrated to Cape Breton, I was instead presented with endlessly repeated events that were not worthy of the time and space devoted to them. How much do we want to know about that single summer at the Renco mine? Not the level of detail MacLeod deemed necessary to include, I assure you. The characters are one-dimensional and not at all sympathetic. The endless use of quotes to highlight certain words, sometimes several in a single sentence, quickly becomes very annoying. Apart from a few poignant descriptions - usually of landscape - I found absolutely nothing memorable or exceptional about No Great Mischief. With the wonderful bounty of Canadian novels now available, don't waste your time on this one.
Date published: 2003-05-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent A joy to read. The author captures the true spirit of Cape Breton and its people.
Date published: 2001-09-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoroughly satisfying! Alistair Macleod's masterful tale of a Cape Breton family over time is thoroughly engaging and satisfying, ultimately ending with a valuable insight into human relationships.
Date published: 2001-08-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Book Club Read We just completed our Book Club meeting tonight and I thought this was a great time to submit our review. There is 5 members in our club and we all enjoyed No Great Mischief a lot. Additionally, someone brought a video tape of Alistair MacLeod being interviewed on CBC. We felt this book was really nice to read and all of us could relate some of the story to our own ancestry. Alistair MacLeod has a really great way of depicting this story, with some really heart breaking family events, in a way that is so natural you do not feel the pain. This is life and death in these difficult times. We had some very interesting conversation around this book and do suggest it as a great book club type reading. I would suggest it is a great read without the book club.
Date published: 2001-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from no great mischief This story was sheer poetry...Macleod is the consumate writer and story teller. The MacDonald clan (Calum Ruadh) is probably a typical family, warts and all, but what makes them special is the bond they have with each other. "...blood is thicker than water...all of us are better when we're loved...". I could not put this book down for long. I was totally absorbed when I began each page because it spoke to my Scottish and Cape Breton heritage.
Date published: 2001-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favouite all-time reads! Although I read this book when it was first published, the images it created linger with me. Now that this brilliant book has won such a prestigious award, I feel proud, as if I had some small ownership of it: I have been telling everyone that this is one of the best books EVER! The characters -- human and canine -- become as familiar as family members, and are equally as complex! Highly recommended!
Date published: 2001-05-16

Extra Content

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.

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 and means to stay.”–Quill & Quire (starred review)“A masterpiece of storytelling.”–Time Out (London)“This book is a jewel.…Destined to become one of the most memorable Canadian novels of the decade.…”–Hamilton Spectator“A haunting and beautiful book.…MacLeod’s descriptions are remarkable.”–Montreal Gazette“No Great Mischief is a lesson in the art of storytelling.”–Times Literary Supplement“The work speaks of great loves…and tragic losses that will move readers in every corner of the world.”–Publishers Weekly“A robust novel, celebrating all of the joys and tragedies life has to offer.”–Edmonton Journal“MacLeod’s world, hard and real, has also the feel of resonant myth about it, enduring truths couched in pellucid prose.”–The Scotsman“A great, hauntingly beautiful and enduring book.”–Kitchener-Waterloo Record“Few readers will fail to be moved by No Great Mischief.”–Toronto Star“[MacLeod’s] writing is of a quality that most writers can only dream of achieving.” –National Post“The book is pervaded by humour and colour, intensely vivid, and very, very moving.”The Independent (U.K.)