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Volume 33, Number 2 (2008)

Repetition with a Difference: The Paradox of Origins in Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief

March 31, 2009


Alistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief (1999) plays on the paradox of chance and destiny, contingency and origins. In the novel, the genealogy of the clann Chalum Ruaidh identifies an originary ancestry to establish the family's New World authenticity. Yet the origins themselves proliferate through the simultaneously haunting and reassuring reappearance of "the little red-haired boy" descendant. The desire for origins meets the anxiety of originality, which complicates the novel's stance on the compromised notion of settler "origins." This preoccupation with genealogy is illuminated by Edward Said's concept of beginnings and Sigmund Freud's of the uncanny.