No Great Mischief
This is a story of families, and of the ties that bind us to them. It is also a story of exile and of the ties that bind us, generations later, to the land from which our ancestors came. In 1779 Calum MacDonald set sail from the Highlands of Scotland with his extensive family, and the loyal family dog that swam out to join them. It was a long, hard voyage below decks – he left Scotland a husband and father and arrived in Canada a widower and a grandfather – and the early years in Cape Breton were not easy. But the family settled in “the land of trees” and grew and spread until it became almost a separate Nova Scotia clan, red-haired and dark-eyed, with its own story.
It is the 1980s by the time our narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of his family. Raised by their grandparents, he and his twin sister have done well and left home. He is an orthodontist in Ontario, his sister a prosperous oilman’s wife in Calgary. Together they marvel at how the family story intersects with history: with Culloden, where the clans died, and with the 1759 battle at Quebec won by the English General Wolfe with the help of the Highlanders whom he once recommended as soldiers because it was ” no great mischief if they fall.” Part of the MacDonald family is still at risk: Alexander’s older brothers are specialist shaft miners, in demand around the world from South Africa to Peru for their dangerous skills.
When our narrator graduates from university in 1968 they are at work at Elliot Lake in the uranium mines, where a misunderstanding with a French-Canadian crew leads to an accident. Fresh from university, with a soft white-collar job awaiting him, out of loyalty Alexander feels obliged to join the family mining crew. And in that long hot summer in the bush, although they share fiddle tunes and the same clannish culture, the tension between the Cape Breton men and the French Canadians continues to mount.
The music of the Cape Breton rings throughout this book, by turns joyful and sad but always haunting. Written in a hypnotic, stately prose where every word is perfectly placed, ‘No Great Mischief’ has the same haunting effect, and shows why the master craftsman took more than ten years to write it. This is a magnificent new novel from a writer about to become a household word.