Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Orange Wednesday: Fall on your knees (Macdonald)

After Claire from Paperback Reader telling me how much she "enthusiastically" recommended Fall on your knees by Ann Macdonald, along with other wholehearted endorsements when it arrived in my household, I had very high hopes for this novel. I was fortunately not disappointed.

At over 400 pages, with very small writing, this is a somewhat epic tale that spans most of the 20th century and many places from Cape Breton Island in Novia Scotia to New York City as it tells the tale of four sisters. It starts with the elopement of an 18-year old piano tuner named James with 13-year old Materia; the initial love quickly turns to dislike as James struggles to cope with her Lebanese heritage. He is consoled when their first child Katherine is born - an absolute beauty who also proves to be a wonderful singer, but eventually tries to escape, enlisting and fighting in WW1. Two more children follow, Mercedes and Frances, and then as Katherine dies, there is a fourth, Lily. But James and Materia's relationship remains hugely dysfunctional and abusive and it is the relationships between the sisters which hold the family together.

The only thing that I struggled with in the novel was the movement backwards and forwards in time; whilst it enabled Macdonald to build up the tale in a more subtle fashion, I felt that it wasn't quite the right way to develop the story of the sisters and would have preferred a more linear approach. Sometimes the motives of the characters are not obvious and I felt a little confused trying to work out what had happened.

The prose is descriptive, with quite a dreamlike quality, and I am sure that it is this, along with the compelling storyline which gained it its longlisting for the Orange Prize in 1997.

Has anyone read any other books by Ann-Marie Macdonald? This was her first, but I see from Amazon that she has also written The way the crow flies (with 10 5* reviews).

Many thanks to Fiona from Vintage for sending me this book.


  1. I read this years ago - I picked it up in a B&B in Cape Cod and while I thought it was brilliantly written, the story was so depressing I could say I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it's one to revisit.

  2. I meant couldn't!

  3. Claire persuaded me to read this one too. I loved it! I haven't read any of her other books yet, but I plan to at some point.

  4. I agree that it is depressing,( I wouldn't let my Dad read it when he asked to!) but I still thought it was a marvelous read; epic, scary,haunting, moving, sexy, just amazing really.

    I almost don't want to read the author's other books as I am afraid that they wouldn't live up to this one. Ridiculous? Yes.

  5. I've read The Way the Crow Flies, it's even longer and could have used some editing I thought. It's set in the 50s in Ontario and is a coming of age story of one young girl, with her brief sexual abuse by a teacher and also deals with her dad's interaction with the Cold War and how that affects his marriage and the children in the community. As an adult the main character reflects back on another girl in her class who was killed, wondering if the wrong person was imprisoned for it. It's complicated, there's a lot going on, I think it has some good points to make about the negative impact of the Cold War on everyone, at the community and family level, but it takes a long and winding route to say those things! It is well written though, but Fall on Your Knees is better.

    I've also read a play of hers, Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet) and if you like Shakespeare it's brilliant.

  6. I read a good chunk of The Way the Crow Flies and then set it back on the shelf because I didn't want to deal with the fact that it would likely be years before she publishes another novel.

    TWTCF is a fictionalized version of the Stephen Truscott case. The military station, in which the bulk of the story is set, is real, and apparently AMM grew up in the same time and area.

    It was officially determined in 2007 (so many years after the events transpired) that Truscott had been wrongly accused and he was acquitted of the crime. There had been steady interest in Truscott's appeals, well before AMM's novel, but I find it interesting to consider the role that works of art, like this novel, play in bringing attention to injustices.

  7. As Carolyn says, TWTCF is good (and also dark) but Fall on Your Knees is better (loved Buried in Print's history behind book!)

    Delighted that you weren't disappointed by this - I do like my convoluted narratives :)

  8. Thanks for your comments everyone; it seems that this is a well recognised "good read" but I wonder why it is not more widely known about. i shall certainly be interested to seek out Where the crow flies when my brain is able to read proper literature again...

  9. I agree with all of the above! I read TWTCF first but I loved Fall On Your Knees more, its probably in my Top20! Lucy

  10. I read this one a few years ago, I received it as a gift and didn't have high expectations when I started, but I really enjoyed it in the end. I didn't know MacDonald had written any other books, I should try the other one sometime.

  11. I have this TBR but the small print is putting me off and now you've mentioned the convoluted narrative I think I'll have to postpone it a while until I'm in serious book reading mode again!

  12. I love the idea of Orange Wednesdays and will be sure to check for it each week. I've been doing the Orange Prize Project for some time now. I like to read many on the longlists too. I find some of my favourite reads on this award list.
    I really liked Fall On Your Knees-most people did. But I enjoyed The Way the Crow Flies even more. Probably because I remember the criminal case at the time and was a military brat myself at the time in the same area. I'm sure you'll enjoy it.


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