04 October 2010

No Great Mischief by Alistair Macleod

Thoughts and Reflections: 
I am undecided about this book, I admit. On the one hand, I loved it. On the other, I found it kitschy and overly sentimental. The descriptions were fantastic, but often the relationships between people and the circumstances were unrealistic (my opinion) or idealised. For instance, when the protagonist is visiting his senile grandmother in her nursing home, they begin to sing a song in Gaelic. This is fine, a reasonable situation. However, their singing draws other residents and soon everyone is holding hands and singing this Gaelic song. Instances such as this were common. I found them to be the result of an kind, but overly idealistic mind. As sweet and beautiful as they may have been, I found it difficult to believe them. 

The themes of the novel are quite interesting: histories and the connection of blood and family. The idea of blood connection is one I can relate to: that all family members rally together when one of their own is in need. In this book, both the positive and negative aspects of blood ties are discussed. Family can both be a burden and a help. For instance, a family member helping another family member secure employment in tough times is a positive aspect. However, giving up personal aspirations or good opportunities to work in a mine with your brothers is maybe a less positive aspect of family ties.

The discussion of histories, personal and otherwise, was, in my opinion, the most interesting and prevalent theme. The novel takes place in the 20th century, spanning the life time of the protagonist. Scottish history continually plays a role in the life of this character. This is something I cannot understand. The character and his family members continually refer back to the battle of Culloden in Scotland in the 1700s as well as the Glencoe Massacre. These events are treated as a pivotal moments in their personal histories. Similarly, the death of the protagonist’s parents is also repeatedly discussed. I can certainly understand how the death of the parent’s would affect the protagonist, but why this perpetual dwelling on events that occurred hundreds of years earlier? What could this possibly contribute to the lives of the characters in the present? This is not some childhood trauma that needs to be reconciled… I have never been to the East Coast of Canada, but, from what I understand, heritage is everything. To truly belong, your family must be generationally East Coast. Perhaps, to East Coasters, heritage, real or imagined, personal or otherwise, creates the present? Histories do affect us, absolutely. However, the weight that the characters placed in events hundreds of years earlier was a bit over the top. Though, perhaps I missed the point... 

The protagonist himself is an interesting character. At the same time, he is a character that the reader may feel well acquainted with, whilst knowing very little about him in the present. This is the issue with personal histories. Though the reader may understand the protagonist in childhood or youth that does not necessarily mean the reader knows him in the present.

All in all, I did enjoy the book, despite moments of kitsch. Alistair Macleod is an incredibly talented descriptive writer. Whilst reading, I began to see this piece of land that so draws and hold the characters of this book. It is seen and described as both a beautiful land (which I don't doubt it is), but also a land of ghost stories, brutal weather, and early death. This is a beautiful story of family, land and history.   


Brief Synopsis:
This is the story of one Alexander MacDonald and his long family history. His personal history includes relatives tracing back to Scotland, as well as a whole clan of relatives, living in Cape Breton and beyond. The reader is able to understand and experience the tragedies and life difficulties that bring this family together, but also that spreads them throughout Canada and the world. The story talks of families and the blood that keeps them together.

About the Author: 
Alistair Macleod was born in Saskatchewan in 1939, but was raised in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He attended St Francis Xavier College, graduating with a BA and BEd in 1960. He went on to complete his MA at the University of New Brunswick, completing in 1961, and his PhD in 1968 from the University of Notre Dame. He taught for a time at the University of Indiana before becoming a professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Windsor. He and his family currently live in Windsor Ontario during the academic year and on Cape Breton Island during the summer. 

Things I Loved about This Novel:
  1. I loved the imagery. The author is able to describe Cape Breton, Scotland, and moments in the lives of the characters absolutely beautifully.
  2. I loved the characters themselves and their emotions. Though I don’t feel like I know them well, I felt drawn to them through their complicated emotional responses to tragedy. 
  3. I loved certain events in the novel, such as running from the police. The author was able to balance tragedy with those fun, light hearted moments of life.

1 comment:

Li said...

Ciao! Hope all is well on your end and that you've read some fantastic books lately =D Just wanted to let you know that I've given you a blogger award! You may pick it up over here. Congratulations! =)