1990s Other Prizes

Fall on Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald

Winner of the 1997 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book, Shortlisted for the 1997 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, Shortlisted for the 1996 Giller Prize

Fall on Your Knees is a long, complex story about 4 sisters living on Cape Breton Island in Canada. The sisters’ parents regret their marriage, as Materia was just a child when she married James. They are clearly mis-matched and Materia struggles to cope with being removed from her Lebanese family. The book begins in 1898 and follows the family as they deal with secrets, betrayal and tragedy.

It took me a long time to read this 560 page epic, but it was worth the effort. I loved the sisters and the complex relationships between them. All the characters were well developed, flawed and steeped with intrigue. I admit that I became confused on several occasions and had to re-read sections in order to understand what was happening. This was due to the fact that the book switched between several narrators and jumped forward and back in time, with no indication of who I was now reading about. I think that this confusion was key to the plot though – not knowing who was speaking at several points helped to maintain the secrets and meant the reader had a more interesting mystery to solve.

The atmosphere of the book was excellent. It had the feel of a Gothic novel, but the Canadian setting made it different from anything I’ve read before. The writing was of a very high standard, so I’m not surprised that it received so much recognition from the world’s book awards.

I must warn you that this book deals with some difficult subject matters: paedophilia, incest and rape are all present in this book along with discussions on religion and war. I thought it was all handled sensitively though, showing the shocking truth about what occurs in society, without sensationalising it.

Fall on Your Knees had me gripped throughout. I am very impressed with Ann-Marie MacDonald’s writing and will try to get hold of all her other books as soon as possible.

Highly recommended to anyone with the patience to understand what is happening!


Have you read anything by Ann-Marie MacDonald?

Which is your favourite?

Claire: Thank you for lending me your copy of this book! 

51 replies on “Fall on Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald”

Lizzy, A great book has fantastic writing and a complex plot. You love the writing, I love the plot; so when they combine it produces an amazing book that everyone enjoys! I’m sure there are lots of other books that we both love and they will be the classics of our time. I’m off to read your review now…

PS. I love the ‘hope chest’ I almost have one already, although it is just a cardboard box filled with my special items. I should get a proper, wooden box to put them in…..

I think I mentioned this on another post of yours, but I read The Way the Crow Flies. I liked it a lot better than Fall on Your Knees. This one I found just too dark for me. My sister said she was actually disturbed at it and didn’t like it at all. While I like McDonald’s writing, this one didn’t do it for me. The Way the Crow Flies is much more of a mystery.

Kari, I didn’t find this book very dark. It dealt with a lot of difficult subjects, but I felt that it always managed to maintain a positive outlook. I am really looking forward to reading As the Crow Flies, because I can’t imagine a book having more mystery than this one.

I am so glad that you enjoyed this, Jackie! I didn’t really doubt otherwise as our tastes are similar but you never can tell. I will need to reread it at some point as not everything is clear in my mind (I have a hopeless retention for books read).

I have read The Way the Crow Flies, which is also very good although I didn’t love it in the same way that I did Fall on Your Knees (I would loan you that but someone else has it on a continent far away, grrr). I actually found its dealing of paedophilia more disturbing than Fall on Your Knees probably because the central mystery is about a murdered child. FoYK is shrouded with the family tragedies and although devastating is less disturbing (for me) because the victims aren’t arbitrary. It does deal with the destruction of families though and also lingers… I definitely recommend it. I wish Ann-Marie MacDonald would write more novels.

Claire, Thank you so much for lending me your copy – I’ll bring it back tonight. I hope that you enjoy re-reading it – I can see that this book would make a great re-read candidate as it was so confusing first time round.

I’ll try to get hold of a copy of Crow Flies soon, but I’ll save it for a while, as I don’t like reading books by the same author too close together. I hope that you manage to retrieve your copy soon.

She does have a new book out: Belle Moral, but it hasn’t been released in the UK yet – time to go on holiday to Canada?!

Belle Moral is another play :(. I love her novels. Definitely read The Way the Crow Flies once enough time has passed.

It’s interesting that you didn’t find it as dark as I did; I’m not sure if I found it depressing but I definitely class it as one of the most devastating books I have read, along with A Fine Balance. Joyce Carol Oates depresses me with her bleakness and I’ve read quite a few depressing books this year. I love books that make me emotionally distraught like Fall on Your Knees.

Claire, I’m sorry to hear that belle Moral is a play – perhaps it is time to read my first play?

Fall on your Knees was a devastating book, but isn’t in the same league as A Fine Balance for depressing reads! I haven’t read any Joyce Carol Oates, but do have a few of her books here – I think it might be time to try one.

My husband bought this book for me years ago for some holiday…Mother’s Day? My birthday? Don’t remember. He had read a review of it in Financial Times I think. I loved it. I agree with everything you said about the novel. The characters are insanely real and flawed, with tough topics, but I still couldn’t put it down. Great review!!!!

Sandy, I’m very impressed that your husband picked this one out for you – mine would never read a review and then buy a book for me. I’m so pleased to hear that you loved this book too!

So glad you discovered this author. I enjoyed this novel very much but I did like The Way the Crow Flies even more. That may be because it dealt with a place and time of my own childhood. She recreated it perfectly. McDonald is an award winning playwright here in Canada but I do wish she write more novels. Thanks for reviewing this and bringing it to other’s attention.

Sandra, These books must be even better with a personal connection. Ann-Marie MacDonald isn’t known very well in the UK (in fact I’d not heard of her until Claire recommended her). I hope that more people discover how wonderful she is.

I read it when it was an Oprah book, and I found it too depressing and dark. I had read a few of these abuse books and it was probably just read at the wrong time. I liked the setting, which is nearby me in Cape Breton.
I may have to try The Way the Crow Flies, as it is getting rave reviews here today.

But yah! for Canadian books. This one was just named as one of the Canada Reads 2010 books, a CBC radio competition where quasi celebs debate and promote ‘their’ book for a week, voting off a book each day for a week.

raidergirl3, I didn’t realise it was an Oprah book until I finished reading it. I’m pleased that Oprah bought this book to a wider audience. It is interesting that some people find it dark and depressing and I didn’t – perhaps I am just used to reading even darker books?

I’m not surprised that this was picked for Canada Reads – it is a classic and I’m sure it will be read many years from now.

I am re-reading Fall on Your Knees for Canada Reads 2010. I loved it when I read it about 10 years ago and I am loving it now. It is so engrossing – I think Ann-Marie MacDonald is an amazing writer.

I read As The Crow Flies and I really liked it as well – you can find my review here:

If you are interested in Canada Reads 2010, here is the website:


Tricia, Thank you for the links. I am very intriuged by those Canada Reads books – I may have to try to get hold of a few. I’ll be interested to see who wins and will keep an eye on your blog to find out what you think of the other books.

Another one we totally agree on, Jackie! Here is my review which I wrote in 2007 before I started rating books. This one really kept me reading – and I still remember much of the book which is astonishing more than two years later *laughs*

Wendy, It is great that we have another match! I am pleased to hear that you still remember it 2 years on. I think I will think about it for a while, as there are still a few bits that confuse me – hopefully it will all snap in to place soon.

Oooh I have this on my TBR pile and it sounds wonderful. I might pop this on my ‘over the Christmas period to read pile’! I have had it quite a while and dont know why I haven’t read it yet.

Simon, I’m not sure that this is the right book for the Christmas period (too dark?), but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and look forward to hearing what you think of it.

I am always relieved when reviews say upfront that there is pedophilia/rape in a book, because I find it really upsetting. (Well, yeah.) But I am afraid I let it put me off very excellent books, when I should be trying to read outside my comfort zone, which I hear is Broadening. Hmmmmm…

Jenny, I know that some people are affected by these things more than others, so do like to mention them. I hope that you are able to broaden your reading taste enough to try this book. I think you’ll enjoy it.

I remember reading this book in HS and loving it!! Whereas my mother absolutely loathed it to the point where she still mentions it to this day despite the fact that it had to have been almost ten years ago that she read it!

Stephanie, It is interesting that you had such different responses to it. I think the fact she still talks about it 10 years on proves the power of the book – whether you love it or loathe it.

I loved this book. And I also loved The Way The Crow Flies even though neither is what some might call an easy read. I hope she gives us more soon because I really enjoy her writing.

Lilly, I agree – this book isn’t easy to read, but I loved it anyway. I think the effort it takes to read it gives you an extra sense of acheivement.

This is one of my very favourite books, and MacDonald is high on my list of favourite authors. I’m so glad people are still discovering her work! It kills me that she’s only published two novels. I can’t wait to read more of her stuff.

Melissa, I’m sorry to hear that you don’t remember much about this book. I thought it would be one that stayed with you. I wonder if I’ll remember it in a few years time?

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