Thursday, November 15, 2007

No Great Mischief - Alistair MacLeod

The Basics: No Great Mischief, Alistair MacLeod, 1999, 283 pages, hard cover

How I found it: I believe this was recommended to me by either Chapters or Amazon on one of those "if you liked _____, you'll also like _____" things. I don't really remember. I do, however, remember that I decided to pick it up since it was about Cape Breton, and because I don't think I've read enough male Canadian authors recently.

What's it about?: This novel is about the men of clan MacDonald on Cape Breton Island. The story is told through the eyes of Alexander MacDonald, somewhat of an outsider to the rest of the men due to his more privileged upbringing and his academic background. Despite being a bit more of a city boy, Alexander knows, as is mentioned throughout the book, that "blood is thicker than water". His last name, his red hair, and his home in Cape Breton all tie him to clan MacDonald and he is there for his kin whenever he is needed. The story follows Alexander's life from being orphaned at age three, to being a middle-aged orthodontist driving into Toronto every weekend to ensure that his alcoholic brother is still alive.

Did I like it?: This is one of the best books by a Canadian male author I have read in a long time. I was familiar with MacLeod's short stories and am surprised I had not read this book, his first novel, a lot sooner. He is a great writer and I really enjoyed this book. Usually I'm not a big fan of books with very few female characters, but I really liked this one. Cape Breton has a bit of mystique and legend about it, with its rugged landscape and Scottish heritage, and No Great Mischief only perpetuates it. Of course all the gaelic in the book helps.

Will you like it?: I know that not too many men read fiction, and even fewer actually make the effort to seek out good contemporary Canadian Literature (with a capital "L"). However, if you know such a man, please recommend this book to him - I guarantee he'll like it. No matter your gender, if you enjoy excellent Canadian lit, this is a must read.

But don't take my word for it: The usual and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from The Guardian, one from January Magazine, and finally one from the almost local Antigonish Review.

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