CanLit Challenge Book #9: No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
Filed under: CanLit Challenge — Ibis at 11:41 pm on Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Book 9, No Great Mischief (2001) – Alistair MacLeod
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.”

Other useful links:
the Wikipedia article on Alistair MacLeod
the Wikipedia article on Cape Breton Island
an interesting interview with Alistair MacLeod

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.” – The Age Education Resource Centre

My Thoughts:
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 in the forum thread, 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.


  • alunsina said:  
    (On January 30th, 2006 at 11:29 am)

    incidentally, i was desperately looking for text copies of the book lost salt gift of blood. i had it a few years ago from one of the booksales here in manila. it accompanied me many a lonely nights. it was the best. i loved every nook and canny of nova scotia, toronto, cape breton, etc. the book broke my heart. unfortunately my ex-boyfriend stole it (the book) from me. and i cant find any copy. i hope i can find one soon!

  • Ibis said:  
    (On February 7th, 2006 at 10:52 am)

    alunsina, I will be doing a bookring which will include Island (which has all the stories from Lost Salt Gift of Blood as well as those from As Birds Bring Forth the Sun, plus a few extras), MacLeod’s novel, No Great Mischief, and a film called ‘Reading Alistair MacLeod’ on DVD. To join up, you have to be a member of BookCrossing (free & fun). In a bookring, someone will send you the books, you’d have to read them within a set amount of time (probably 2 months) and then send them on to someone else. On the other hand, if you just want to own a copy of LSGoB, I’d be happy to send you one. There’s just a small catch–you’d have to journal it on BookCrossing (you don’t have to be a member to do that). Love your pics on your gallery blog, btw!

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