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No Great Mischief Hardcover – Large Print, September 1, 2002
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
MacLeod, a Canadian of Scottish lineage, has earned a sterling reputation north of the border based on two collections of stories (Barometer Rising; As Birds Bring Forth the Sun), and with his first novel he will only add to that acclaim. Already a bestseller in Canada, No Great Mischief (the title comes from General Wolfe's callous reaction to the death of Highlanders enlisted in Britain's efforts to wrestle Canada from France--"No great mischief if they fall") tells the sprawling story of one Scottish clan, the MacDonalds, who come to Cape Breton from Scotland in the 18th century and struggle valiantly to maintain their pride and identity up through the end of the millennium. The narrative is in the hands of a rather staid Ontario orthodontist, Alexander MacDonald, who comes to Toronto to aid his alcoholic older brother, Calum, who is down on his luck in a shabby rooming house and in need of company and a supply of liquor. The two will eventually drive to their beloved Cape Breton where the family patriarch is buried at the edge of a cliff, and along the way the family saga is relived, retold, recast. Alexander, it turns out, was orphaned at age three, along with his twin sister, when both parents fell through the ice when returning to the lighthouse where Alex's father was the keeper. His three much older brothers were already on their own, fishing off the Breton coast, tangling with French-Canadians in mineral mines, drinking hard in bunkhouses, while the twins are raised in relative comfort by doting grandparents. Calum, who seems to carry the legacy of the original Calum MacDonald (who lost his wife on the voyage from Scotland in 1779, leaving him with six children, to which he would add six more), is the dark light, like a bottle of whiskey, through which MacLeod's account is refracted. What emanates is a loving retrieval of a people's native strategy of survival through history and across a changing landscape. Though at times the narrative is confusing, it is cannily so: there are three Alexander MacDonalds to keep track of; there are familial ties that seem filial, then avuncular and then estranged. But the overall effect is authenticity, and the lack of irony is as bracing as the cold spray of the North Atlantic. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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We go back centuries to the Highlands of Scotland, where the MacDonald clan fought for their independence. This history is akin to the authorsq, Alistair MacLeod and his family. Farming, coal mining, marriage, children, college for the lucky, violence and blood for some. We meet them all. The grandparents keep the families together, and from them we learn the ways. Grandfather always said, 'Music was the lubricant for the poor', but in actuality music kept the entire heritage alive. And, grandmother said, 'Everyone is better if they are loved'. How very true.
Such a marvelous book, even if my maiden name was not MacLeod, I would hold this book true. The writing like poetry that sings in my heart.
Heartily Recommended. prisrob 08-05-17
Hence a vast migration of Scots to the new world, in the case of some of the clan Chalum Ruidah to Cape Breton, and the beginning of this wondrous, harsh, tender and inexorable tale, beautifully written, in fact, awesomely so.
A classic by any definition of the word, it belongs among the greatest works of world literature. Do I sniff a Nobel Prize in the future? I certainly hope so.
There are so many elements in this story that they are ungraspable. It is deeply sad, yet at times joyous. By the time the reader has finished reading it, it most likely has gotten into his blood. The beautiful Gaelic lilt in the voice of the author, half-poetry, half-prose, seems to shine through centuries. Even the animals take on a life of their own, horses, dogs, even whales. But always, always sadness at the heart of it all. And yet there is no trace of self-pity, though some of the characters have miserable fates. One even wonders about the lead character who, along with his sister, fares better than the rest, at least to outside appearances; yet there is a strange passivity, an odd reluctance, even in this supposed person of success.
An emigration story, a coming of age tale, the settings being Toronto, Ontario mineral mines, Calgary, and of course Cape Breton, this Clan is at heart very tender. One wishes they had been allowed to live easier lives. A cast of characters one can never forget.
For me, the book that starts out confusing--why the characters are doing what they are today? and ends with a deep comprehension of bonds that form during a life.
This is definitely not a book for someone wanting a breezy travelogue about the pretty vacationland on Canada's East Coast. MacLeod's novel has nothing to do with the tourist experience. Instead, it is about a harsh and demanding land that shapes the characters and their relationships much as the waves carve the shore.
I'm not from Cape Breton, although I have been there 9 times and grown to love the place. The locals see MacLeod's writing as being very true to their heritage, and treasure it. His stories are often dark and quite sad. In particular his short stories (see "The Island") often leave me in tears.
This is the story of some lives, tough lives in remarkable places from Cape Breton to western Canadian mines. In the end, if you are like me (and several of my friends), you will understand the brothers' bond, and applaud the extraordinary skill and beauty with which the author has told this story.