No Great Mischief: A Book Review


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.”

About Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

I began my working career as a reluctant potato peeler whilst waiting to commence my training as a student nurse. On completion I worked mainly in intensive care/coronary care; finishing my hospital career as clinical nurse educator in intensive care. A life changing period as a resort owner/manager on the island of Tanna in Vanuatu was followed by recovery time as a farmer at Bucca Wauka. Having discovered I was no farmer and vowing never again to own an animal bigger than myself I took on the Barrington General Store. Here we also ran a five star restaurant. Working the shop of a day 7am - 6pm followed by the restaurant until late was surprisingly more stressful than Tanna. On the sale we decided to retire and renovate our house with the help of a builder friend. Now believing we knew everything about building we set to constructing our own house. Just finished a coal mine decided to set up in our backyard. Definitely time to retire we moved to Queensland. I had been writing a manuscript for some time. In the desire to complete this I enrolled in a post grad certificate in creative Industries which I completed 2013. I followed this by doing a Master of Arts by research graduating in 2017. Now I live to write and write to live.
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14 Responses to No Great Mischief: A Book Review

  1. Luanne says:

    This is fascinating to me because I thought you were talking about a memoir not a novel! No story, but beautiful writing. Hmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really interesting review, Irene. You’re equivocal about the book, whether or not it’s a success. It sounds more like a series of well rendered sketches than a story.

    A story must have a story – a series of events beginning with doubt and desire and ending with fulfillment or failure. Characters must hope and struggle to reach a particular outcome, getting stumped along the way, possibly unsuccesful but with lesson learned. Otherwise, even when very well recorded, it’s a bunch of diary entries. A good memoir also tells a story. Even an award can’t make up the loss of the story thread.

    This is where a good editor could have made a substantial difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes it is really strange. All through I was asking what is the story and yet it was strangely compelling. The story I suppose was why the older brother was an alcoholic but that got lost in amongst other family members and events. His other two books were short stories and perhaps that is where his strength lies. Also perhaps he was writing a memoir but not claiming it as one. If it had been a memoir I would have said it was very good indeed.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Charli Mills says:

    I’m drawn to the way you describe the book’s story-telling although it isn’t structured as a story. When I was out at Lake Superior I wouldn’t even dare to step foot on the ice I can best describe as a field of shards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Charli I think its a book you’d like despite not having a story in the true sense of story there are scenes that are so vividly drawn that they have stayed with me. I’m glad you don’t step foot on the ice – these people had put spruce trees in to guide them and if the ice melted the trees would sink as a warning. I felt like I was there on the ice with them and it is something (particularly their dog) that will stay with me for a long time to come.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        There is an ice road on Lake Superior between a village called Bayfield and Madeline Island. They use the discarded Christmas trees from locals to line the road the same way (for the same reason). The ice there is much more smooth because the Apostle Islands protect the bay. Here on the Keweenaw, we get the open rough seas of Lake Superior and there is no walking on shards as thick as a foot and tall as a car! I looked for this book on Kindle, but it’s not in that format. I’m going to check with Finlandia University library now that I have a card.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Its a different world for me. If you can’t get it I’ll post it.


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