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No Great Mischief

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  10,291 ratings  ·  735 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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Average rating 4.02  · 
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 ·  10,291 ratings  ·  735 reviews

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Vit Babenco
Apr 25, 2014 rated it really liked it
All this obsession with the family past and a wish to get down to the roots...
No Great Mischief seems to be too ordinary to win so many prestigious literary awards and though I liked the novel I wasn't impressed greatly.
In the landscape around me, those who harvest the bounty of the earth are stilled for the day. Yet they are there in the near-darkness with their own hopes and dreams and disappointments.

At first there are great expectations then there are just hopes and then one keeps hoping aga
Jeanette (Again)
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
Miles Kelly
Mar 06, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2011
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
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I really enjoy Alistair MacLeod’s prose, some of the best I’ve read. While the characters are not very dynamic in No Great Mischief and the life of miners and this clan from Cape Breton are not the most interesting of subjects, if nothing else this book should be savored for the beautiful writing, the nostalgia it evokes and its strong sense of place. I enjoyed Islands, MacLeod’s book of short stories, a little more because it was more colorful but No Great Mischief is very thought provoking whe ...more
Paul Burry
May 20, 2009 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

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
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-borrowed
I feel so very ho-hum over this one that I have very little to say.
Nov 17, 2014 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 wit
Dec 30, 2008 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
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: alistair-macleod
This is a story of lives which turned out differently than was intended.
It is hard when looking at the pasts of other people to understand the fine points of their lives. It is difficult to know the exact shadings of dates which were never written down and to know the intricacies of events which we have not lived through ourselves but only viewed from the distances of time and space.
Perhaps,” he said after a pause, “it’s just the same sadness in different packages.” “Oh well,” said Grandma, “w
Mar 29, 2009 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.
Sep 14, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian, scottish
I enjoyed the family history, though felt like I didn’t have enough knowledge of Scottish history to appreciate it all. Very similar themes to his short stories. I liked how the novel seamlessly moves from modern to past timelines.
Jan 18, 2008 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
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
Natasha Penney
Feb 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book is timeless, lyrical, and stunningly written. It is a beautiful book of the bonds of family, ties to the past, blood being thicker than water, and the importance of being loved. It was wonderful.
Aug 16, 2012 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
Feb 04, 2008 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
Jun 24, 2010 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
Jan 10, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
Lovely writing in a lackluster story. All the tools of a great writer: imagery, foreshadowing, a nice job of interweaving themes. Grandpa and grandfather are two memorable and contrapuntal characters. But the history was simplistic, a lot of repetition and such xenophobic Scottish posture that I could not give this more than 3 stars.
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.
Mar 10, 2013 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
Nov 08, 2008 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 14, 2010 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
Nick Munene
Mar 09, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this novel but the first few chapters felt like they needed one more careful edit before publishing. However, the narrative pulled me in especially the struggles in the mines and both grandfathers. I liked Calum best and reread the first few chapters just to get a glimpse of him again and I feel like despite his many shortcomings, life dealt him unfair cards. My best moments were always Grandpa's drunken musings and the phalic imagery that followed.

In today's campaigns for min
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Beautifully written story about a remote community and an enduring family.
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-reads
This was quite hauntingly beautiful. I really appreciated the narrative style, it gave the story more depth and complexity. It was really interesting reading about the history of Scottish people in Canada, something that I would have never thought about.
Mary Soderstrom
Apr 22, 2014 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
Aug 11, 2014 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
Claire (Silver Linings and Pages)
This novel is quiet but mighty; I loved it.
No Great Mischief is narrated by successful orthodontist, Alexander MacDonald, who visits his ailing alcoholic brother in Toronto. The narrative is woven with their family memories, and the saga of their ancestor Calum MacDonald, who left the Scottish Highlands in 1779 and settled in Nova Scotia with his family.
It’s so difficult to describe this special book. Plot-wise, not much happens and yet everything happens because it is about life events in a s
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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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