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Review: No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

For the Canadian Book Challenge, I chose to start with No Great Mischief by Alistair Macleod.

I was attending the University of Windsor around the time when MacLeod published this novel, and so it was impossible not to hear about his accomplishments and success. The campus bookstore always had stock of No Great Mischief, and even a few signed copies. Somehow though I kept talking myself out of buying a copy, and claimed I’d borrow it from the library. Last week I finally borrowed it from my library and read it. It was so wonderful; I loved it. Well, it is an award winner, so I expected it to be good, but still I was a little surprised. It was quite torture when I was nearing the end; I was incredibly tired and fighting to keep my eyes open (“only 10 more pages”) but sleep finally won over and when I awoke I had to re-read a few pages and finish off the last few. Don’t you hate it when sleep gets in the way of reading?

In No Great Mischief, the narrator, a Canadian of Scottish decent, tells us his story, as well as the stories of his brothers, sister, parents, grandparents and Scottish ancestors. The reader travels through the memories of the narrator, and the stories he has gathered throughout his life. I actually liked that the novel began on the road in southwestern Ontario – I too sometimes choose to drive Highway 2 or 3 in lieu of the 401 whenever the weather is right. The author started me off in a place I knew well, but then he had me travel across time and space through his story to Cape Breton; I’ve never been to Nova Scotia though I’ve come close (my grandfather lives in New Brunswick).
For many people, our roots are important. I was close to being a teenager before I realized that I was French Canadian descent and that three of my grandparents (all still living) are/were French-speaking. Man, was I bitter! I’ve now spent my life trying to re-learn the language, and I’ve made some progress though I’ll never be fluent. So, I could see in this book, how the author used language as one way the family stayed connected, and how he showed its loss through the story of his nephew who encountered some men from their clan. Music was also an important element throughout the novel. I enjoyed the bits of song or fiddle playing, especially the ‘play-off’ between the Scots and the French Canadians in the mining camp. That would’ve been fun to watch and listen to! This really did have elements of Canadian Literature in that place was so important, but it did not leave me depressed or sad like some CanLit tends to do.

Okay, so that’s one down for the challenge, 12 to go!

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About Jen

An instructor, a reader, a dog-owner, and advocate; that's how I define myself and these aspects directly impact my interests and conversations.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Review: No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod

  1. Hi! I saw your comment on The Book Mine Set. I haven’t read this one but I’ve heard good things. I got turned off MacLeod in High School (so many books were ruined for me in HS!) I’ll have to read this one though, being a Cape Bretoner and all.

    Good luck with the challenge!

    Posted by Chris | 11 Dec 2007, 12:57 AM
  2. I’ve heard a lot of people say they prefered his short stories to this one, but I liked this more. I know summing up the Canadian experience is a near impossible thing to do, but the way he explored different clans of people (the ways they stick to their own, and the ways they interact) I thought was a theme everyone here could connect with. Great book.

    Posted by John Mutford | 11 Dec 2007, 1:59 AM
  3. One of the best last lines I’ve ever read, but I hated to get to that point. Great books end all too soon.

    Posted by Remi | 12 Dec 2007, 5:42 AM

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