All of us are better when we're loved."
When I first read No Great Mischief it was on the recommendation of my mother and my oldest brother, both great readers whose tastes mirrored my own. That first reading was like a lightning bolt. That was twenty years ago.
Since then I’ve come back to this book many times and each reading hits me the same way.
At its heart, this is a book about love. Love for a brother, for family, for a shared history, and for those who came before us to the land we call home. It is love for all that has shaped us, the good and the bad.
Alexander MacDonald is visiting his eldest brother Calum at his rooming house in oronto. An alcoholic and a convicted murderer, Alexander grants him dignity and forgiveness, acknowledging that love is the only weapon against our own destructive impulses. While Alexander is out getting liquor for Calum, he tells us the story of his brothers, his twin sister, and their family through a series of flashbacks and reminisces.
Although suffering great tragedy in their youth at their childhood home of Cape Breton Island, the family - and the entire clan - are exceptionally close, always honouring their Scottish adage of taking care of one’s own. Or as the wonderfully colourful grandma MacDonald says, “Always look after your own blood”.
The story of Alexander’s childhood with its deep connection to the land his extended family, and the values he is taught, is powerful in its depth of feeling. As the brothers go west to the uranium mines of northern Ontario where they work underground, these values are tested in ways no one could predict. As the narrative moves between the two worlds of modern day, it also mirrors the clan’s history in the new world.
Used by the British to help defeat the French in the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, Scottish soldiers were thought to be dispensable, or as Wolfe said, “they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall”.
It is this heritage of family and tradition that ultimately drives the characters to their respective lives, but ultimately Macleod captures the beauty of forgiveness and grace that has me coming back to this novel over and over again. Despite the seemingly cruel hardships they endure, loyalty to family, both those of the mythic past and those who share our lives, is what keeps this novel in my mind long after that beautifully haunting last line.
Wash your hands, wear your mask, stay hopeful.
In the meantime, happy reading!