No Great Mischief: A Novel

by Alistair MacLeod

Paperback, 2001

Call number




Vintage (2001), Edition: Reprint, 304 pages


In 1779, driven out of his home, Calum MacDonald sets sail from the Scottish Highlands with his extensive family. After a long, terrible journey he settles his family in 'the land of trees', and eventually they become a separate Nova Scotian clan- red-haired and black-eyed, with its own identity, its own history.It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family, a thrilling and passionate story that intersects with history- with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec that was won when General Wolfe sent in the fierce Highlanders because it was 'no great mischief if they fall'.

Media reviews

Los Angeles Times
"Remarkable. ...[MacLeod's] writing, graceful and elegiac, has the resonance of Steinbeck."
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The New York Times Book Review
"With...No Great Mischief...American readers...have before them...a new land that their imaginations can seize like a manifest destiny."
San Francisco Chronicle
"A gorgeously worded...novel by an acknowledged master of the short story."
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
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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.''
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User reviews

LibraryThing member brenzi
Several years ago, while traveling through the Maritime Provinces in Canada, my breath was taken away by the natural beauty of the coastline that looks out on the Atlantic Ocean and Cape Breton. It is this same stunning region that serves as the setting for Alistair MacLeod’s remarkable coming of
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age novel.

Alexander MacDonald tells the story of his ancestors, and his parents; of his brothers and his grandparents; of the red haired and the black haired; of the loving “clan Chalum Ruidah” and the beautiful, yet dangerous, land of Cape Breton. The book follows two distinct threads: the first story takes place in the present and tells of Alexander and his destitute, ailing, older brother Calum. The second story that Alexander tells is of one summer when he was a college student working in the uranium mines with his rowdy older brothers.

The beauty of the book is the author’s seamless way of floating between the two threads while also exploring the early lives of Alexander, his twin sister and their grandparents and the lives and adventures of their ancestors who traveled across the Atlantic from Scotland in 1779. Because above all else, this is a story about family and love and the blood that connects one being with another, told in the most beautiful, haunting prose imaginable:

“By the time my sister and I were entering our teenaged years, a lot had happened to our older brothers. A lot, I suppose, had happened to us all. A lot of it quietly, coming like the growth of hair in new places for some, while the hair of others was receding or thinning or changing colour. Change without sound, yet change nonetheless, and change that was important, although sometimes invisible as well as silent. As quiet as the cancer cells which multiply within the body or the teeth within the imperfect jaw which ‘drift’ towards the spaces vacated by their fellows. As quiet as the ice which wears and rots beneath its white deceptive surface or the sperm which journeys towards the womb and reaches its destination without a single sound—after the screams of orgasm are no more.” (page 72)

I knew nothing of Scotland, or Gaelic, or uranium mining, or the treacherous dangers of ice and water but what I learned through this slim volume via the wonderful, lyrical prose, almost poetry, of Alistair MacLeod about all these things added immensely to my knowledge of the human heart and the importance of family. Simply sublime and very highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is a magnificent novel. It's the story of the MacDonalds, who immigrate from the Highlands of Scotland to Cape Breton, in Nova Scotia. MacLeod's descriptions of the terrain, the weather, and the brutality of humans to one another and to other animals is breathtaking. And heartbreaking. This is
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a story about the enduring ties of family and the sense of belonging that arises from history and family. When I completed it, I almost cried, not for sadness at having completed the novel, but because MacLeod had captured something so visceral that I could not put it into words. Thank goodness he was able to do so.

I'm a MacDonald. Or, rather, my maternal grandmother was a MacDonald, but this novel would assert that it's the same thing. My grandmother's parents immigrated from Scotland; I assume that occurred around the turn of the last century, but that is the sum of what I know about that branch of my family tree. But I have long known about the history of the MacDonalds being massacred in their sleep, centuries ago, by fellow Scots whom they naively trusted. Fellow Scots, but members of a different clan. Those skanky Campbells..... Perhaps this novel spoke to me so fiercely because of that history, because there is something at a molecular level that is beyond conscious recognition. Or perhaps this novel spoke to me because MacLeod so elegantly captures the human experience of belonging, the brutality of life and loss, and the notion that "all of us are better when we are loved." He also captures the sense that history matters, that it is essential for the making of meaning, but notes that, if one goes "...through history picking and choosing and embellishing...", it's still the case that " meaning can be true and the other can be accurate." The narrator, one Alexander MacDonald (one of three), is sorting through his own history and that of his family, and trying to assess what is true and what is accurate. In doing so, as he moves back and forth in time and history, he provides a narrative that will break your heart and make your heart soar. The writing is multi-layered, piling allegory on top of metaphor on top of allusion ---- but, even not getting them all, I knew they were there. Some were more subtle than others, but none lacked grace.

I have only two small quibbles with the writing: First, the overuse of quotation marks, when it would have served the author's purpose to just let the metaphor sit. And, second, there is one section near the end when our narrator and his sister wander just a bit too far into a philosophical discussion of the bloody history of the MacDonalds in Scotland. Perhaps I should know more about Scottish history (especially our relationship with the French, which is devastatingly recreated in this novel in the Canadian uranium mines of the 1970s), but since I don't, they lost me for a while. Still, given the emotional impact of this novel, the indelible sense I have of the characters and their landscape, and the joy with which I opened the covers every time I had a chance to read, this novel gets my highest recommendation. It's a keeper.
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LibraryThing member -Cee-
This is a story of family, a tightly bound clan. With an ancient history of Highland loyalty running through their veins (and their dogs), to the MacDonald family blood is indeed thicker than water. A compassionate and gritty story of siblings, who begin their hardscrabble life in Cape Breton,
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unfolds into a heartwarming survival story spanning their Canadian relocations, aging, and evolving philosophical views. There are no miracles or easy outs, but there is strength of purpose – successes and failures taken in stride. Alcoholism, social troubles, poverty, a strong work ethic, a connection to the sea, respect, love and death are explored in this excellent, earthy novel.

MacLeod, internationally acclaimed and award-winning author, richly portrays the seasons, the landscapes, and the wild beauty of eastern Canada. His writing is insightful and moving. You can’t help but share the respect and an awe-filled love of nature found in his richly drawn characters. They depend on the land and sea for sustenance. Death is natural and merciless. Life is a shared journey. A fierce love is rooted deep in the collective consciousness of the culture. Reading this book, you cannot escape its grasp.
Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
I enjoyed this novel which read as if it were a memoir of a family's life in eastern Canada. I enjoyed the poetic sense of place and the descriptions of how this "Highland" family transferred their loyalty from Scotland to Canada. The commitment to family evident in this story is all too missing to
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today's world. A minor, but very moving, tribute in the story was to a "race" of dogs which "loved too much, and tried too hard". The first dog would not allow the family's boat to leave the shores of Scotland without her and all her descendants were known to be loyal and hardworking family members. As a dog lover, this cemented my appreciation of the book.
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LibraryThing member Cait86
No Great Mischief is the story of the clann Chalum Ruaidh, a massive, many-branched family of Scottish Highlanders, who relocated to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in the 1700s. Told by Alexander MacDonald, a contemporary member of the clann, this family saga takes the reader through turmoil and sorrow,
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all with an underlying message of the endurance of humanity. The novel moves mostly between Alexander's childhood in Cape Breton, his stint as a miner in Northern Ontario, and his present life as an orthodontist in Southern Ontario (very close to where I live, actually!), but it also dips into the past, and tells the story of the clann Chalum Ruaidh's move to Canada.

MacLeod's storytelling is wonderful, and the unfailing spirit of his characters was moving. The reader has the sense that this family has come through many hard times, and will face more difficulties in the future, but through it all they will survive. Their familial bond is what keeps them going - for as Alex's Grandma says, "We are all better when we are loved."

For the most part, MacLeod's writing was beautiful as well, and his descriptions of Cape Breton make me want to plan a roadtrip to the Maritimes. The only thing I disliked about his writing was his propensity for sentence fragments. Many a time I had to reread a sentence to grasp the meaning, and often these sentences were not complete. I guess this is just his style, but I found it jarring.

I'm a big fan of Canadian Lit, and I haven't read a lot of it this year, so No Great Mischief was a nice return home for me.
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LibraryThing member Bcteagirl
No Great Mischief is full of stories of Alistair Macleod's family, but reads like a fiction book. The book is largely set in Cape Berton during the time he was growing up, but includes him discussing stories he heard about his great great grandparents coming over from Scotland, as well as flashes
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to current time in Toronto and Calgary.The book largely focuses on how people lived their day to day lives (Whether working in mines,on boats, or living in 'ultra modern' houses in Calgary) and the common ties/history that bind them. Some parts of the story are sad, but this is not a book whose main goal is to make you cry. I found this book to be a wonderful read, and if your library has a copy I suggest you check it out :)
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LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
The past is ever present in the lives of the Scottish Highlanders who faced the long journey from their homelands after the debacle of the Jacobite uprisings of the mid-18th century. The descendants of the MacDonalds who emigrated to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, are all either red haired or dark
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haired. Their kin tend toward twins, the speaking of Gaelic, songs of lament, and tragedy. Such is the case for these 20th century heirs in this sad but heartfelt tale. Late one March evening a husband and wife and their fourth son, Colin, disappear under the ice as they are making their way on foot across the ice bridge to the island on which the husband and father is the lighthouse keeper. Three older sons are left behind as well as twins just three years old. The twins, a boy and a girl, are left in the care of their paternal grandparents who live in town. The older boys retreat to the old family home in the hills to eke out a living and make their way as best they can. The youngest boy, now a grown man, is the narrator of this family saga. He is the ‘lucky, unlucky’. Lucky to be able to be raised in town by his grandparents. Unlucky in the circumstances that bring this about. But ‘lucky, unlucky’ might also describe the whole history of the Scottish Highlanders. And their collective sad tale is intermingled with the tale of this specific family of MacDonalds.

Alistair MacLeod’s writing is both sentimental and hard. He does not hide from the harshness of the lives of his subjects. Gruelling work, unexpected death, and violence abound. But so do songs and repeated adages, advice to this disparate and sometimes desperate clan. A counterpuntal narrative structure takes us from the late 20th century back through the lore to the late 18th century and forward again. And always the bond of blood remains stronger than any distance or difference that might arise.

At times the narrative structure betrays the author. It tends towards repetition, like a refrain in a long song, which becomes less palatable as the story transitions from archetype to particular. The more we know about the narrator and his siblings the less the repetitions work emotionally. They begin to feel thumping, as when in a raucous sing-along someone needs to be stomping a beat in order to keep the verse moving forward. And there is something curious about familial and national history that concentrates almost entirely on the tragic events and has very little to say of love or personal desire and achievement or thoughts beyond the most basic blood bonds. I kept wondering whether this was a peculiarity of MacLeod’s writing or a Scottish trait coming through. In either case it begins to tire the reader, I think. Or maybe I’m just inherently suspicious of writing that tugs on such nationalist and clannish heartstrings.
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LibraryThing member unaluna
This is one of the most incredible books I've ever read. MacLeod's writing is excellent, and I do believe that the first four opening paragraphs are my favourite. I could continue, but I'm a bit too moved to do it justice. I read this at the perfect time of my life.
LibraryThing member phebj
This I would highly recommend. It’s a story of the relationship between two brothers who seemingly have nothing in common. Alexander, the younger brother, is in his mid-50s and a successful professional with a wife and children. Calum is about 15 years older and a lonely alcoholic living in
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reduced circumstances. Alexander’s visits to his brother seem to be made out of obligation but as the story sweeps back in time to their childhood and family history (200 years of it) you start to realize the depth of their connection.

The writing is lyrical and at times almost seemed like a song with certain events of family history appearing repeatedly like a chorus. The title of the book comes from one of these historical refrains, involving a betrayal of the brothers’ ancestors.

The impression I had while reading the book, which has stayed with me, was of an almost tidal pull of family ties and longing.

The present day story takes place in Toronto but the book takes you back in time to Scotland, Nova Scotia and the Canadian Shield.

I feel like I have these characters and these places engraved in my memory. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Alistair MacLeod.
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LibraryThing member BrianK
Set in Cape Breton in the nineteen seventies, No Great Mischief revolves around the visit of a successful orthodontist to his alcoholic brother eking out a miserable existence in a sqalid room above a shop in Toronto.

The visit is the starting point for a narrative that follows the fortunes of a
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group of Scots-Canadians descended from one legendary eighteenth century immigrant. Hardy and tightly-knit in the face of recurring tragedy, the extended family see themselves and the rest of the world with reference to their group identity. But it's an identity thatis being eroded by modernity and the book is an elegy to the last generation of the clan to understand itself in this way.

The robust storytelling is woven around with imagery that explores the book's central themes of leadership, community, intransigence and betrayal. Poignant and intelligently written, this is a book quite unlike much contemporary fiction in that its concerns are not only with the personal but also with community.
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LibraryThing member piefuchs
"It's time"...

That line has become a joke phrase in my family. Alistair MacLeod is an excellent short story writer, a true master of the craft, - no Canadian finishes high school without studying at least one of his stories. Like many excellent short story writers, however, he has trouble
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stretching the story into the longer novel format. There was simply too much glorification of rural Canada, and CB in particular, in this book and towards the end the plot became trite. The consistently excellent prose justifies the three stars.
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LibraryThing member SunChildLiz
While in the throes of paper-writing bliss, I was reminded how much I loved this beautiful gem: Alistair MacLeod's 1999 novel, No Great Mischief.

Composed as a fictional memoir, this book chronicles the stunning history of the exiled clann Chalum Ruidah from the Highlands of Scotland. Set in the
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modern landscape of Cape Breton (Canada), our narrator Alexander MacDonald relates his own story, which he finds is inextricably linked to his family's past.

It is about legend. It defines the depths of family bonds. It explores the continuity of history.

It looks at loyalties, it looks at perseverance.

It is melancholic. It is elegaic. It made me cry.

It is an exquisite read.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
No Great Mischief is a beautiful read. Canada's maritime writers have an innate gift for storytelling. The richness of the family history of "clann Chalum Ruaidh" is expertly spun by MacLeod.
LibraryThing member siafl
A very touching read and a very good book. MacLeod is an English professor, so his book has exceptional unity and coherence. An obviously important subject matter to the author, and even though not quite so for me, I appreciated his effort in portraying a poetic and welcoming look into what it
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means to be a part of a melting-point country that is Canada, through examining the Scottish identity, the history of a people, a family, a clann, a name, a gene, and the teachings of a tradition, and reflecting on a changing society over three hundred years, and what it does to a person in terms of losing one's sense of belonging to a culture. The images are created with subtle words in subtle ways, but are powerful and make for memorable contrasts.

Recommended, especially for those who yearn to flee the bustling cities and seek meanings in quieter places.
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LibraryThing member janismack
Beautifully written story about 4 brothers who tragically lost their parents when they were young.
LibraryThing member yourotherleft
MacLeod's novel chronicles the life of the MacDonald clan from the time they left Scotland to the present day on Cape Breton in Canada. His characters, though far removed from the Highlanders of old, feel a profound connection with all of their ancestors and with each other. A repeated theme is
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that of taking care of one's own blood which is demonstrated throughout the book, when Alexander, the narrator, and his sister are taken in and raised by his grandparents when his parents meet a tragic end. Again we see it when Alexander puts his education as an orthodontist on hold in order to join his older brothers and members of his clan sinking uranium mine shafts on the Canadian Shield. Again the theme appears when the same group of men offers refuge to a cousin from San Francisco who is seeking to dodge the Vietnam draft. Even though the brothers have never met him, they welcome him with open arms and no questions asked. This theme holds the book together and emphasizes the deep connection of the clann Chalum Ruadh from the distant past to the troubled present. One of the finest moments in the book occurs when Alexander's sister visits the Scottish Highlands and ends up meeting with a crowd of members of the clann whom she has never met, but all are moved to tears by the "reuniting" of this distant Canadian member with those who chose to remain in the Highlands.

Alice Munro praises No Great Mischief saying this, "You will find scenes from this majestic novel burned into your mind forever." A truer word was never spoken. While the novel as a whole is engaging, without MacLeod's talent for creating captivating scenes describing the past or the scenery or even events that would fail to capture our interest if it weren't for his descriptive flair, it would most likely fall flat. These are the moments that make this novel a very worthwile read.
The only complaint I have about this book is that only a few of the main characters have actual given names, the rest of them are referred to as "my second brother" or similar titles. It's a little bit confusing and occasionally discourages from the characterization. Other than that, this book is a can't miss. MacLeod brings these tightly-knit Scottish descendents and their environs to vivid life.
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LibraryThing member LDVoorberg
Another great novel by a Canadian!

There's a nice weave of two storylines: middle-aged Alexander MacDonald visiting his oldest brother Callum and younger Alexander as he grows up. Plus the mingling of the Clan's history with Canadian history. Such a rich heritage!

What I find most intriguing about
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this novel is its "telling not showing" writing style. Usually writers are encouraged to "show" events and emotions, but MacLeod seems to tell them, yet in a way that still expresses so much and draws you in to love the characters -- the grandparents especially. I think they steal the show. Back to the writing style: it's very straightforward and simple, yet still has a depth to it. So even though some of the history went over my head because I'm so unfamiliar with it, the story that was told came through.

A very worthy read.
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LibraryThing member jharlton
This novel works on a number of levels to convey the complex relationship between the individual and the family. I became much more interested in my own family's history upon reading this, and much more interested in history in general, which is something of a grand scale turnabout for me. How
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MacLeod links history to identity and history to language is innovative and powerful. But, even without looking at the themes too much you can still appreciate this novel for the wonderful characterization and salty, life-like imagery.
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LibraryThing member chained_bear
I knew by about the third page this book was going to rock, and it did. (Sorry I'm not more descriptive...) If you have any interest at all in the people of Atlantic Canada, or in lyrical memoirish (though fictional) writing, you'll like this.
LibraryThing member JGoto
This novel is made up of a series of vignettes of a Scottish-Canadian family, written in lyrical, poetic prose. Very moving.
LibraryThing member lriley
I have John from Ottawa Ontario to thank for this one.

A very deserving winner of a huge literary award--the Irish Impac--No Great Mischief revolves around the MacDonald family of Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia, Canada. Originally from the Scottish Highlands clann Chalum Ruaidh is equally at
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home speaking Gaelic as English. Narrated by young Alexander (or 'gille beag ruadh'--the little red boy) who along with his twin sister Catherine is brought up by his paternal grandparents after the untimely deaths of his real parents--Alexander will later go on to work his way through dental school by working with other members of his clan in the uranium mines in Northern Ontario.

Though at times it reads more like a memoir the story is as much about the other family members as it is about Alexander and his sister. The family has a mystical connection not only to their Nova Scotian homeland and the gaelic culture they were brought up in but also to their Scottish forebearers and the land that they came from. A comparison for me might be Halldor Laxness's Independent people--those connections even to past times and events are so strongly felt by all the members of the clan that is as if everything and everyone from the past is still real for them today. Their attachment to their two homelands is always lyrical and evocative and the connection is felt on both sides of the ocean even for those who have never met.

MacLeod is a special writer and it's unfortunate that he has not written very many books. I guess it's best to take what one can get.
This is a compelling and even a fun book to read. I found several epiphanic moments in this one and I can say that with even many excellent books it's not always even to find one. Anyway this is highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member John
In a recent article on "The Decline and Fall of Literature", in the NY Review of Books (04 November), Andrew Delbanco, made a number of observations on the value of literature, e.g.:

Literature does not embody, as both outraged conservatives and radical debunkers would have it, putatively eternal
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values that its professors are sworn to defend. It does not transmit moral certainty so much as record moral conflict. Its only unchanging "truth-claim" is that experience demands self-questioning.


...the full scale revival will come only when English professors recommit themselves to slaking the human craving for contact with works of art that somehow register one's own longings and yet exceed what one has been able to articulate by and for oneself. This is among the indispensable experiences of the fulfilled life...

Alistair MacLeod has written just such a that illuminates life and the power and sustenance of family and historical relationships. It is understated in its presentation, but like the history of a family that one absorbs through one's pores, it becomes a great fabric, any part of which cannot be subtracted. This is a story told by Alexander MacDonald, descendant from Calum MacDonald who left the Highlands in 1779 for a new life in Canada, and who sired a long and multi-branched line of descendants. Alexander, in the 1980s, is a well-to-do orthodontist in Toronto, with his twin sister living in Calgary, and the story moves back and forward in time..more the former than the latter and with different periods and different places. There is a gentle, simple rhythm to MacLeod's writing, so smooth that one cannot even see the polish that had to have gone into each phrase.

This is the story of the power of family and roots and tradition, even if those things may not always be explicitly acknowledged; it is about the power of "blood being thicker than water"; it is about respect for the generations and the wisdom that have come before. In a lovely metaphor, MacLeod describes the MacDonald brothers going out to cut a timber for a boat they were building:

In the middle of the grove they saw what they thought was a perfect tree. It was tall and straight and over thirty feet high. They notched it as they had been taught and then they sawed it with a bucksaw. When they had sawed it completely through, nothing happened. The tree's upper branches were so densely intertwined with those of the trees around it that it just remained standing. There was no way it could be removed or fall unless the whole grove was cut down.

And so it is with the MacDonald clan: trunks may be severed, lives may shift and develop in different and incompatible directions, but in the end, the intertwining of family connections and family love sustains and supports all who come under its shadow.

Again, Alexander at one point is talking about how he tried to isolate photos of his parents in a large, old group photo (his parents both drowned when he and his twin sister were quite young),

...but it would not work. As the photographs became larger the individual features of their faces became more blurred. It was if in coming closer they became more indistinct.

I don't think this is saying that individuality is not important, but rather it notes the power, or the longevity of a powerful family group over the fate of any particular individual.

The last line of the novel repeats a favourite expression of Alexander's grandmother (who raised him and his sister after the death of their parents), and which sums up a core and critical component of this family's life and this book:

All of us are better when we're loved.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
'The Zulus,' I said, recalling earlier conversations, 'always sing in the miners' componds. Our brothers said that after a while they could almost sing the songs, although they didn't know their meaning. It was as if one musical people were reaching out to join another.'
'I don't suppose,' she said
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after a moment of reflection, 'that you sing at your work?'
'No, I don't.'
'Do you subscribe to a concert series?'
'Yes,' I said.
'So do I. The performers are quite wonderful.'
'Yes, they are.'

Calum Ruadh (Calum the Red) landed in Nova Scotia in 1779 along with his six sons, six daughters, son-in-law, a dog that refused to be left behind, and a baby granddaughter born on the voyage a few days after the death of her grandmother. Two hundred years later, his gaelic-speaking Canadian descendants still have raven black hair or red hair and black eyes and own brown dogs that 'care too much and try too hard'.
The history of the highlanders in Scotland and Canada and the story of clann Chalum Ruaidh in particular, are told by orthodontist Alexander MacDonald, reminiscing when he meets up with his twin sister Catriona or his alcoholic oldest brother Calum. All three have ended up isolated from their roots after moving away from their birthplace on Cape Breton, but miss the closeness of the clan, and fall back into speaking Gaelic and telling old stories about their parents and grandparents when they meet up.
There is a lot of wistfulness, sadness and tragedy in this book, but they are balanced by warmth, togetherness and the security of belonging to a close-knit community with a shared history.

I loved it, and think I will keep it in my Personal Collection for a while, if that is all right with you Caro, as I would like to read it again. And if you haven't read your other copy of this book yet, I highly recommend that you should bump it up to the top of your pile!
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LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
No Great Mischief comes from a letter from General Wolfe about the Highlanders fighting with him to take Quebec. The full quote is "no great mischief if they fall" as he didn't regard the Scots highly. The book by Alistair MacLeod tells the story of a MacDonald family branch that comes to Cape
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Breton to settle. Living off the land and sea, it is a hard life. They follow their customs, speak Gaelic, and play the music of the Highlands.
Alexander MacDonald is a twin with his sister who are the youngest of a family that undergoes a terrible tragedy. Raised by his grandparents, he tells the story of his family with frequent flashbacks from his current life as a well-to-do dentist.
It is a story about family and tradition. There's a quote repeated throughout the book: 'All of us are better when we're loved.' No matter their difficulties, these people stuck together through good times and bad.
Mr. MacLeod's writing is lovely. He has a style of writing much like a tone poem. Each paragraph is a new painting set before the reader to savor and absorb. I'm usually a fast reader, but I found myself taking my time through this story, sometimes only reading a page and putting the book aside, the better to reflect.
One of the classics of Canadian literature, No Great Mischief is a book to be cherished and reread.
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LibraryThing member patrickgarson
Alistair MacLeod's prose is so assured, so evocative, so masterful. Just a page of it is enough to gently spin you into his world, where his simple, enduring Cape Breton characters strive.

And strive to what? Well, to live in some cases, to apportion meaning where it belongs, to swim with the tide
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of history or break free from its powerful suck.

No Great Mischief is the story of Clann Calum Ruaigh, a Scots family that migrate to Canada after the disastrous battle of Culloden. Like all his stories, MacLeod's characters and the worlds they inhabit are permeated, soaked, in history and context. Every relationship, house, and farm animal possesses its own complex history of joy, sorrow, triumph and disaster.

This sounds melodramatic, but through the prosaic, yet thoughtful, eyes of his characters it never overwhelms. Indeed, it's understood the weight of these context-riddled ruminations can suffocate as often as they sustain.

And yet all this history essentially resolves into a simple quest: the quest for meaning. Like a beachcomber on those wild shores, deciding what to pick up and what to leave behind is a difficult decision. These universal elements of love & loss, coupled to the removed, slightly alienated, observations of his protagonist give the book's drama a universal, relate-able nucleus.

The strong cultural connection to the land and nature that underpins everything resonated with this former country boy even more strongly - but it's not a prerequisite for enjoying the novel.

A unique - out-of-time if not timeless - writer offers up a labour of love in what is quite likely the only book he ever writes. Well worth the investment for the quality of prose alone; the almost ethnographical cultural history that invests it with something profound is a bonus. An embarrassment of riches, and likely be something still read - and still - relevant in fifty years or more.
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