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‘Fall on Your Knees’ by Ann-Marie MacDonald


Fiction – paperback; Simon & Schuster New York; 508 pages; 2005.

First published in 1996, Fall on Your Knees is an acclaimed debut novel by Ann-Marie MacDonald. It tells the unforgettable story of four sisters — Kathleen, the beautiful and talented one; Mercedes, the good and morally upstanding one; Frances, the wayward and bad one; and Lily, the much-adored crippled one — growing up on Cape Breton Island in the early 20th century.

Their parents — James, a complicated but intelligent man, and Materia, a troubled woman of Lebanese extraction — battle demons and family secrets to raise their children amid the poverty-stricken coal mining community in which they live.

Coupled with the horrors of the First World War and the diseases which ravished whole towns and killed children before their time, is it any wonder this book is a little on the depressing side?

If that’s not enough, Fall on Your Knees, which can best be described as a sprawling family drama, is charged with a disturbing undercurrent of violence, racism and incest.

Despite the explosive subject matter, it took me some time to ‘get into’ the story. I found it a little slow in places and the storyline seemed pointless. Plus, I didn’t feel emotionally attached to any of the characters.

But there were certain parts that I adored (for example, Book 6: The Girl Guide, which is about Frances’ foray into the sleazy world of strip-teasing, and Book 8: Hejira, which is about Kathleen’s risque time amid New York’s emerging jazz scene).

And, just when I’d resigned myself to giving this novel a fairly mediocre three-star review, along came one of the most satisfying and surprising endings I’ve read in modern fiction for quite some time.

MacDonald neatly draws together all the loose elements to deliver a heart-hammering and completely unexpected shocker of an ending, a climax that left me stunned.

Fall on Your Knees is an ambitious novel which requires a lot of hard work on behalf of the reader, but it is well worth the effort in the long run.

‘Fall on Your Knees’ by Ann-Marie MacDonald, first published in 1996, is listed in Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, where it is described as a “disturbing tale of family love and of sin, guilt and redemption”.

5 thoughts on “‘Fall on Your Knees’ by Ann-Marie MacDonald”

  1. I don’t know if this will get to you but on the hopes that it will – I was blown away by the emotional impact “The Way the Crow Flies” had on me – I had to put it to the side for a number of months in the middle and so glad I picked it up again – I knew I had to! My wonderful wife has just given me her copy of “Fall on Your Knees” and as a long time ago ‘English’ MA – I am blown away by your writing and felt compelled to tell you – Faulkner’s landscape, Dostoesvsky’s moral seesaw, Steinbeck’s compelling descriptions, ee cummings poetry – this and much, much more. Thank you for your work, whatever that took! I will be reading everything you have written that I can get my hands on!!!!!


  2. “Fall on Your Knees” is the most beautiful thing I have ever read. Up until I picked up this glorious book on a whim last month (I liked the cover …) I had considered Steinbeck’s “East of Eden” to be the best modern epic I have thus far experienced. To me, Anne-Marie MacDonald has gone above and beyond the limits, giving us a Canadian masterpiece. I am so appreciative for this wonderful gift, a story that is so striking in emotion and detail, I constantly found myself going back a paragraph or a page to savour the lucious language despite the overwhelming urge to read on. Thank you is all I can say.


  3. I was absolutely disgusted by ‘Fall On Your Knees’. For this trash to be critically acclaimed means people are becoming sad and desperate indeed in the search for meaning in their lives. The novel is simply ridiculous beyond belief; the author has thought of every known human tragedy and thrown it all into one depressing and miserable book. Sick to the core and I have thrown my copy out.


  4. “Fall on Your Knees” is an amazingly crafted book. The complex themes and subtle literary references are like pieces of a puzzle the educated reader can’t assemble quickly enough, the kind of story one needs to reread to fully comprehend and appreciate. For example, the title references the song “O Holy Night”. After finishing the book, think about how the words of the song metaphorically relate to the Piper family story. An amazing book for those who enjoy exploring all the dimensions of a novel.


  5. Amazing book, read it in 1998 (15 yrs ago).
    Don’t know why I haven’t looked after her other work … no excuse … sorry….


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