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No Great Mischief

(1999)
A novel by

 
Awards
International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awards Best Novel
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 colouring. 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--realising 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. There is no 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

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Used availability for Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief


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Hardback Editions

September 2006 : Canada Hardback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-7710-5575-7 / 978-0-7710-5575-1 (Canada edition)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

September 2002 : USA Hardback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 1-57490-434-5 / 978-1-57490-434-5 (USA edition)
Publisher: Thomas T Beeler
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

August 2000 : UK Hardback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-224-06079-1 / 978-0-224-06079-0 (UK edition)
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

May 2000 : USA Hardback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-393-04970-1 / 978-0-7710-5567-6 (USA edition)
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

September 1999 : Canada Hardback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-7710-5567-6 / 978-0-7710-5567-6 (Canada edition)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

Paperback Editions

1999 : USA Paperback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief: A Novel
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-393-34119-4 / 978-0-393-34119-5 (USA edition)
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

June 2001 : UK Paperback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-09-928392-1 / 978-0-09-928392-8 (UK edition)
Publisher: Vintage
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

2002 : UK Paperback
thumbTitle: NO GREAT MISCHIEF (LARGE PRINT)
Author(s): ALISTAIR MACLEOD
ISBN: 1-84197-505-2 / 978-1-84197-505-4 (UK edition)
Publisher: CLIPPER
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

March 2001 : USA Paperback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief: A Novel
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-375-72665-9 / 978-0-375-72665-1 (USA edition)
Publisher: Vintage
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

January 2001 : Canada Paperback
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-7710-5570-6 / 978-0-7710-5570-6 (Canada edition)
Publisher: Emblem Editions
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   Amazon CA   

August 2000 : UK Paperback
Title: No Great Mischief - Oz/NZ Only
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
ISBN: 0-224-06131-3 / 978-0-224-06131-5 (UK edition)
Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Availability: Amazon   Amazon UK   

Kindle Editions

October 2014 : UK Kindle edition
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
Publisher: Vintage Digital
Availability: Amazon UK   

January 2012 : Canada Kindle edition
thumbTitle: No Great Mischief
Author(s): Alistair MacLeod
Publisher: Emblem Editions
Availability: Amazon CA   


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