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In 1779, driven out of his home, Calum MacDonald sets sail from the Scottish Highlands with his extensive family. After a long, terrible journey he settles his family in 'the land of trees', and eventually they become a separate Nova Scotian clan: red-haired and black-eyed, with its own identity, its own history. It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family, a thrilling and passionate story that intersects with history: with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec that was won when General Wolfe sent in the fierce Highlanders because it was 'no great mischief if they fall'.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099283928
ISBN-10: 0099283921
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 17mm)
Pages: 272
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 1-Jun-2001
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » Alistair McLeod's first novel has catapulted a little-known 'writer's writer', acclaimed for two volumes of short stories, to the top of Canada's bestseller lists, and deservedly so. No Great Mischief reveals McLeod as a major talent, a superb story teller, effortlessly catching the reader's attention, and keeping it with an unusual mix of lyricism and realism. It is narrated by Alexander, a member of the MacDonald clan in the Scots Gaelic of Cape Breton that they still speak. It opens as Alexander, known in his childhood as gille beag ruadh - 'the little red-haired boy' - but now a successful, middle-aged orthodontist, visits a hopeless alcoholic in a seedy rooming house in Toronto - his eldest brother, Calum. Gradually the story of gille beag ruadh, his twin sister, and his three elder brothers, is revealed. The twins were orphaned at the age of three when their parents drowned in icy waters. They are raised by their kindly grandparents, while their older, teenage brothers run wild in the family home. Eventually the brothers establish themselves as miners, and an accident in the family causes Alexander to leave medical school and join them in the mine. This strong family loyalty is explored through dramatic fragments of the history of the MacDonald clan, who are descended from one Calum Ruadh. Calum arrived in Cape Breton in 1779 from the Highlands of Scotland with his large family and the loyal family dog. The clan's story is full of pathos and poetry, and also has richly humorous moments. At intervals, Alexander joins his sister, a prosperous oilman's wife in Calgary, and together they reflect on how the family's history intersects with mainstream history: Culloden, where many MacDonalds died, and the 1759 battle at Quebec, won by General Wolfe, with the help of the Highlanders, whom he recommended as soldiers because it was 'no great mischief if they fall'. This is the story of a family, a hero - big brother Calum - and of a nation - Canada - the result of the integration of numerous minorities such as the clann Chalum Ruaidh, some of whom feature in the novel. It is a major imaginative achievement. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » There are many beautiful moments in this limpid and haunting novel, the first full-length fiction from the Canadian author of two highly praised story collections: The Salt Gift of Blood (1998, not reviewed) and the paperback As Birds Bring Forth the Sun (1996).Those titles hint at the lyricism that is MacLeod's special giftand that flowers impressively as the narrator, Toronto orthodontist Alexander MacDonald, looks wistfully back at the history of his family's emigration from Scotland in the 17th century, the life and legacy of his ancestor `Calum Ruadh` ('red-haired Calum`), Alexander's own upbringing by his doting paternal grandparents (after an accident on a treacherous ice floe takes the lives of his parents and an older brother), and his later relationships with his other surviving brothers, rough-hewn miners whose wayward energies propel them into alcoholism, and even murder. Alexander's vacillations between his sophisticated, comfortable present-day `world` and that of his stoical family are memorably captured in frequent shifts between present and past. These give the tale a marvelous variety and color; but redundant contrasts between the romantic-chaotic then` and the drab `now` (frequently spelled out in lax conversations between Alexander and his twin sister) only make us impatient to return to the MacDonald clan's earlier days. The retold family stories are without exception gripping and quite moving, and are graced by stunning little gasps and leaps of felicitous phrasing (for example, at the funeral of a brother killed in a mine accident, Alexander muses `On the last day of his life he had been deeper in the earth than he now reposed in death`).If all of MacLeods debut operated at this level of intuition and eloquence, the novel would be a masterpiece. As it stands, it confirms his reputation as one of Canada's most sensitive and stylish writers of fiction. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Alistair MacLeod

Alistair MacLeod was born in 1936 and raised in Cape Breton, Nove Scotia. MacLeod is the author of two short story collections, The Lost Salt Gift of Blood (1976) and As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories (1986) and the novel, No Great Mischief, published in 1999. Written over the course of thirteen years, No Great Mischief won numerous Canadian literary awards and the 2001 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. All of his published short stories, plus one new piece, were collected in Island, published in 2000. Alistair MacLeod died in 2014.

Books By Author Alistair MacLeod

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

No Great Mischief

Paperback, December 2012
Island by Alistair MacLeod


Paperback, January 2012