A beautifully written family story that spans three generations of the McDonald clan both in Scotland and after their immigration to Nova Scotia. Alice Munro says of No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod “You will find scenes from this majestic novel burned into your mind forever.” That is certainly true. There are scenes I will never forget such as when the mother and father and one of their sons walk back to the lighthouse over the frozen ice; the death of the other Alexander Macdonald; the music night at the mine; the horse pulling Calum’s tooth; the whale and more. The writing is simple but effective – lyrical, making it almost poetic to read.
However, this is a family history and throughout I wondered when the story would start. The history of the family I found interesting but felt it was more background to something else which didn’t happen. There were numerous of Munroe’s unforgettable scenes throughout the book and never did I feel like putting it down nor did I have a reluctance to pick it up but for some reason it didn’t fully work for me.
MacLeod certainly made his characters known to us. The narrator was Alexander MacDonald who now is an orthodontist. It starts when he is on his way to supply his older brother, an alcoholic, with alcohol. Calum (the brother) had been convicted of murdering a French Canadian miner and was on probation from a life sentence. Through reminiscences we learn the story of the1779 Calum Ruadh from whom the Macdonalds were descended. We get to know Alexander’s brothers, his grandparents on his fathers side and his grandpa on his mother’s side. We get to know cousins. We are taken from Cape Breton to the mines in Ontario and to the current day (1970) in Toronto. The ending although sad is beautiful.
So would I recommend a book that didn’t have a story in the true sense of the word – I have to say yes I would. The writing was beautiful. There were enough highs and lows to hold my interest and scenes that were memorable. It tells of a country and a life that is unknown to me and I enjoyed that aspect. This is a book I would classify as literary and if you like lyrical – put this book on your reading list. It teaches us that “all of us are better when we’re loved.”