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No Great Mischief

4.02  ·  Rating Details ·  7,820 Ratings  ·  522 Reviews
Alistair MacLeod musters all of the skill and grace that have won him an international following to give us No Great Mischief, the story of a fiercely loyal family and the tradition that drives it.

Generations after their forebears went into exile, the MacDonalds still face seemingly unmitigated hardships and cruelties of life. Alexander, orphaned as a child by a horrific t
Paperback, 304 pages
Published November 28th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published September 30th 1999)
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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
April 21, 2014: Rest in peace, Alistair MacLeod. Died April 20, 2014.
His extraordinary style will never be matched.

Another outstanding piece of storytelling from this great Canadian writer. He uses repetition of images and phrases throughout the book as a very effective tool. It gives the story both a rhythm and an anchor, continually bringing you back to reminders of what binds the clan and their shared history.

This is the story of the Scottish clan of Calum the Red, who came to Nova Scotia ov
I just learned that Alistair MacLeod died yesterday. This shouldn't be such a shock - he was 77, and suffered a major stroke in January which forced him to remain in a hospital in Windsor, Ontario - a city where he lived and taught, and ultimately passed away. I was reading materials on him work just a few weeks ago and he was still with us, and now he's not. Despite being an acclaimed author in his native Canada and abroad, Mr. MacLeod remained a very private person - I had no idea about his co ...more

We are all better when we're loved.

1940s Cape Breton is a place untouched by modern ideas of individualism. Here identity is not forged by choices made, but by birth into a history, birth into a clan, birth into your place in that lineage that stretches back to Calum Ruadh who came from Moidart to the New World in 1779 when he was a man of 55, who lived another 55 years in the land of trees, giving his life a strange sort of balance. Who are your parents, who are your grandparents, those are t
Miles Kelly
Jun 04, 2016 Miles Kelly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I guess this is not my sort of book. It is the tale of Scots in Cape Breton and in particular a branch of the MacDonalds, and makes much of how they never forgot their roots, always stick together, and still speak Gaelic. It won various prizes and is considered the best Atlantic Canadian novel. But how it got so esteemed I have no idea. I found it tiresome and longwinded. There is really not much of a plot except a bunch of disjointed anecdotes. The characters are little more than mouthpieces fo ...more
Paul Burry
May 20, 2009 Paul Burry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"My sister was silent for a moment.

'Calum once told me,' I said, 'that when they went back to the country, they went one day to cut a timber for the skidway they were making for their boat. They went into a tightly packed grove of spruce down by the shore. In the middle of the grove, they saw what they thought was the 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 t
Dec 09, 2015 BrokenTune rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, canada
"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."

This, in short, is what I liked about the book. Yes, I do mean that particular quote.

I know this is one of those books that a lot of people seem to really like, and I can understand why, but for me this was a frustrating and really annoying read. To the extent that I even got annoyed with
Jun 01, 2013 Brian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 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 w
Apr 06, 2009 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009-read
I really enjoyed this book -- much more than I'd expected to from reading the description. I know very little about Canada's history or even its geography, so I actually found myself occasionally consulting a map to locate the relevant places from the text. The writing was beautiful and managed to be sentimental without being sappy or sarcastic. I'd recommend this book to anyone looking for a powerful read that sneaks up on you as you're going along.
Jan 18, 2008 McKel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. I would recommend this book to anyone, especially if they are descendents from Scotland or Ireland. It deals with the struggles that people have trying to hold onto their roots, yet becoming a part of a new society. It's the old world vs. the new world struggle. Some embrace the "modern" world and leave their family and their legacy to be part of this world, while others desperately hold onto whatever heritage they have left and forfeit a lot to do it.

Another aspect
Aug 16, 2012 Sharon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Alistair MacLeod doesn't waste a word as he tells the story of a fiercely loyal family bound by shared history and culture even as they move through tragedy after tragedy to make their way in the "new country."

The story is told through the eyes of Alexander MacDonald, orphaned as a child by a terrible tragedy and raised by his grandparents. Repetition of phrases, proverbs and themes, juxtaposition of current and past circumstances, reflection on the MacDonald clan's past tragic history, musings
Jun 24, 2010 Val rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
MacLeod is a wonderful writer, but I found nothing to lure me to this fictional memoir of a family descended from Scotland. Actually, I found most of the story quite boring other than certain characters' relationships with animals. The Gaelic inclusions were interesting but after a while I found myself skipping over these passages because I neither knew how to pronounce them nor how to translate them. I really do not understand all the praise for this book - it seemed that each time MacLeod hit ...more
I read this book, quickly, in less than twenty-four hours. It really held my attention, and I was interested to see how it ended. This novel won several major literary prizes when it was published in 1999 by Alistair Macleod, a Canadian writer. The narrator is an orthodontist, who frequently visits his alcoholic older brother in a rundown rooming house on downtown Toronto. These visits provide the opportunity for the narrator, Alexander MacDonald, to tell the story of his family's history in Can ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Bill rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was a Christmas gift from my mom, and it is also one that I would have bought for myself.
It won several international awards, and the back cover and inside pages are lush with glowing reviews from across the literary landscape of esteemed writers and reviewers.
(You can see where I'm going with this, can't you?)

It's a story that roots itself, for the most part, in my birthplace, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia And, it's a novelization about the MacDonald clan! This novel had so much going for it fo
Nov 25, 2008 MacDuff rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2008
This is the second time I've read this book, and I was teary-eyed at the end again. It's the story of the clann Chalum Ruaidh, or the Clan of Calum the Red, an 18th century Scottish Highlander who crossed the ocean to Nova Scotia. His family, the following clann, has to come to terms with the fact that their somewhat famous ancestor crossed the ocean to start a new life with his what end?

This is an absorbing novel, and MacLeod is an incredibly mature writer. With anyone else, it mig
Dec 20, 2010 Tom rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-author
I thought this was one of the most poorly written books that I've ever read. I get the whole struggle of immigrants to hold on to their roots and the scourge of alcoholism, etc. However, I found that the dialogue didn’t ring true in that I don’t think people actually speak the way it was written. All the characters seemed to do was to rehash legends of their ancestors, which is all well and good. But they were the same legends told over and over and didn't advance the plot at all. And the consta ...more
Aug 16, 2014 Anita rated it really liked it
This haunting story stays with you long after you have put down the book.
It is beautifully written, the descriptions of the settings are so evocative that I actually felt as if I had visited Cape Breton myself.
It tells the story of a family, the MacDonalds, who leave Scotland in the late 18th Century to journey to Canada, and it follows the lives of their ancestors in the Cape Breton area of Nova Scotia. Most of the MacDonald clan intermarry, so that they form a very tight-knit community, who re
Apr 11, 2013 Katie rated it it was ok
Recommended to Katie by: Kelly Kitchen
A friend recommended (and dropped off) this book for me to read. In contemplating my review, I've just decided to (word-for-word) hash out my text message to her on my feelings toward "No Great Mischief." That way I don't have to re-think my feelings for this book a second time.

Friend: Did you like it? (Don't be afraid to tell me your true thought).
Me: "I thought the book was alright, but definitely not a favorite. Which slightly surprised me because this was a historical fiction no
Jun 16, 2013 Catherine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book snuck up on me. It started so slowly, with a successful orthodontist driving to visit his alcoholic older brother. While this "current" (actually 1970s) storyline continues throughout the book, the majority of the novel consists of flashbacks which reveal the past and what brought the brothers to such different places in life.

These two brothers come from a huge Scottish-Canadian clan, descended from the twelve children of Alexander MacDonald who settled on Cape Breton Island in Nova S
Shirley Schwartz
May 27, 2014 Shirley Schwartz rated it it was amazing
This novel by the great Alistair MacLeod is one that I'm sure is offered in creative writing classes. If it's not, then it should be. It is a novel about the MacDonald family. They came from Scotland and settled in Cape Breton Canada looking for a better life. But where the MacDonald's go, it seems that hardship and tragedy follows them. On board ship, the MacDonald patriarch loses his wife, leaving his six children motherless. He then marries his wife's sister and they have six more children an ...more
Nov 30, 2013 Taka rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

It's quite a novel: clocking in at 281 pages in the edition I read, this covers much more than what 281 pages usually covers—the history, the family saga, the depth of characters, the richness of the setting are all here, delivered in a precise, beautiful prose. You come to inhabit these people on Cape Breton, breathe their culture, appreciate their customs and beliefs, and love them. You'll laugh at the jokes of Grandpa, you'll be touched by the dogs and by the strong family tie, and
Tee Jay
Apr 17, 2010 Tee Jay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How could I not like No Great Mischief? This novel is about Elliot Lake, the town in which I was born, and also Sudbury, the town in which I currently reside. Oh, and there's some uranium mining and rugged Northern Ontario terrain thrown in for good measure. The story itself is not that bad either.

The impression I had when I read No Great Mischief was that of a novel made up of short stories. Each chapter was almost autonomous from the rest of the story. However, one could not understand them i
Sep 21, 2015 Ann rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Came across this book and decided to reread it and see if I still loved it. I do. A/the Great Canadian Novel by the late Alistair MacLeod.

This saga of the MacDonalds of Cape Breton starts with their historic emigration from Scotland. These unforgettable details are necessary because the legend lives on in the family members. A family tragedy haunts younger family members whose lives are altered in memorable ways. Some MacDonalds move west to Ontario and some farther. Great characters abound --
Mar 30, 2009 Patrick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I am ambivalent about this book, and not sure whether or to whom to recommend it. The prose is good, and the depiction of place and person compelling. The problem I have is that most of the characters are basically thugs and punks. I am not sure if I am supposed to somehow identify with them (which I cannot, despite my Scots heritage), or to be put off (which seems an odd motivation for a writer of fiction). Unlike the main character, I cannot reconcile the two into a sensible whole. Bottom line ...more
A fairly typical Canadian novel with flawed characters, tragic events and disfunctional families. What truly sets this book apart is its precise writing that directly reflects the changing nature of the relationships. There is hope and humour alongside the sadness and toil. For anyone who wants to read a good Canadian novel, I would recommend this one.
I read this book about 16 years ago and gave it 4 stars then. Today I am giving it 5 stars. Middle age gives you a different perspective.
Mary Soderstrom
Apr 22, 2014 Mary Soderstrom rated it it was amazing
Alistair MacLoed Is Dead: Far from No Great Mischief
The news this weekend is that Alistair MacLeod, short story writer and novelist, is dead at 77. As it happened, we had a very stimulating discussion of his novel No Great Mischief on Wednesday at the Atwater Library. Most of the participants found much of interest in the book, although our resident dentist said the episode where one of the characters ties a rope around a tooth in order to pull it far from realistic.

The book, which MacLeod work
Melanie Guerra
Sep 02, 2015 Melanie Guerra rated it it was amazing
I read this book for a few reasons, not the least of which is my mother, aunts and uncle telling me I should. They grew up on Cape Breton, and in fact, Alistair MacLeod was a relative of ours. After a visit to Southwest Margaree and the family property, I picked up a copy in Cheticamp. I was not at all prepared for this gorgeous masterpiece of a novel.

The structure of the story is classic - family, generations, passage of time. But the element that sets it apart is the Gaelic tradition. Family
May 03, 2013 Stuart rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The blurb of "No Great Mischief" by Alistair McLead begins "You will find scenes from this Majestic novel burned into your mind forever. In 1779, driven out of his home, Calum McDonald sets sail from the Scottish Highlands …", not to mention the battle for Quebec , Culloden and General Wolfe . Thus, this book did repose on my bookshelf for several years (perhaps also because it came highly recommended by my Scottish born father). When eventually l did take up the book, rather than a novel, I was ...more
Dec 15, 2010 Mrsgaskell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This poignant novel beautifully depicts the history of a clan from the Scottish Highlands who settled on Cape Breton Island in 1779. Family stories and legends spanning over two hundred years are revisited by descendant Alexander MacDonald as he visits his alcoholic oldest brother Calum and reminisces with his twin sister Catriona. Alexander has prospered as an orthodontist, far removed from the mining and logging traditions of his family. He and his sister miss the close ties to family and thei ...more
Robyn Smith
Apr 19, 2015 Robyn Smith rated it really liked it
A fascinating interplay between the life of a Canadian dentist of Scottish descent and certain historical episodes in Scottish history, such as Culloden and the battle on the Plains of Abraham where General Wolfe was supposed to have remarked it was "no great mischief if they fall", referring to the Highlanders. According to the protagonist, "ille bhig ruaidh" (the red-haired boy), his grandfather on his mother's side had a clear-eyed view of Wolfe as a shrewd general who could see good fighters ...more
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When MacLeod was ten his family moved to a farm in Dunvegan, Inverness County on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. After completing high school, MacLeod attended teacher's college in Truro and then taught school. He studied at St. Francis Xavier University between 1957 and 1960 and graduated with a BA and B.Ed. He then went on to receive his MA in 1961 from the University of New Brunswick and his ...more
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