Sunday, August 19, 2012

No Great Mischief

I admittedly love Alistair MacLeod. Island is one of my favourite books of stories, and generally I hate short stories. I think I first read No Great Mischief in 2002 and while I was most recently moving I decided it was on my list of books that I should re-read. I think what I love most about it as a book is that MacLeod is first and foremost a storyteller - he repeats images and phrases throughout the book to give a sense of rhythm and to give the reader an anchor to the story as a whole. I always think of it as like the chorus of a song, it reminds the reader that the story is part of a bigger whole.

The story MacLeod is telling is the story of the clan of "Calum the Red" a Scottish clan who came to Nova Scotia about 200 years ago. It's clear the characters come from an oral tradition, one where history is kept alive through storytelling, stories that are added to and repeated as events occur. The family ties are admittedly a bit baffling - there are three Alexander MacDonalds and the clan itself is so inbred that even the dogs are inbred - redheads with dark eyes (how very Scottish, I know).  The main story takes place in modern times as the narrator tells about being raised by his grandparents after his parents death. The thing is, personally I think that the behaviours and connections of the clan as told through repeated histories and songs can seem more real then current events. You feel for the characters - from Alexander's relative success to Calum's destitution on the streets of Toronto you can't help but feel the wild comedy and heartbreaking tragedy of the family.

This is by no means an 'easy' read, and I do understand why some people have no patience for it. That being said, it's a book I personally love, and one that I absolutely would recommend.

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