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No Great Mischief

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  9,657 ratings  ·  663 reviews
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 descendents became a separate Nova Scotia clan. ...more
Hardcover, 296 pages
Published September 30th 1999 by McClelland & Stewart
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4.02  · 
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 ·  9,657 ratings  ·  663 reviews

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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
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  ·  review of another edition
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

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
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-borrowed
I feel so very ho-hum over this one that I have very little to say.
Paul Burry
May 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"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
Nov 17, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, reviewed
"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
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.
Aug 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Mar 10, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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.
Feb 07, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Beautifully written story about a remote community and an enduring family.
Mary Soderstrom
Apr 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2012 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
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 27, 2013 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
Lindsay Wilson
Despite making it more than halfway through this book yesterday on a plane, I found myself really uninvested in the characters and their disjointed story. As a result, I basically just skimmed through the rest. I can see why so many people like it, as it's quite well-written, but it's surprisingly dull, given how esteemed it is. The story of Alexander's parents and grandparents is quite interesting, and I actually was intrigued about where the story was going, but once the story starts to focus ...more
Tee Jay
Apr 16, 2010 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 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 11, 2009 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
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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