Fall on Your Knees: A Review

I don’t know why I avoided reading this book for so long. I think it’s because Ann-Marie MacDonald is technically ‘from away'. I’ve read that some Newfoundlanders don’t care for The Shipping News and the people of Ironbound practically revolted over Rockbound, both written by outsiders. But there was no need for me to feel that she would do the island a disservice. MacDonald writes lovingly but honestly of the island of Cape Breton and it's turbulent history. She also has the vernacular down. Her use of ‘b’y’ and her "Who’s your father?" are dead on.

When Oprah picked this as a book club read, she said that Cape Breton was ‘an exotic island’ and I nearly laughed my head off. Exotic doesn’t spring into my mind. MacDonald did indeed make the island a mystical and magical place. Just as the moors are just right for the Brontes’ tales, Cape Breton becomes a gothic setting for this story of a family haunted by secret longings and sins. Like Wuthering Heights, Fall On Your Knees has a similar tone. It is surreal, like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale.

The story begins at the beginning of the 20th century, James Piper takes a child bride, a wealthy Lebanese girl, Materia. He soon comes to regret this hasty decision as he has nothing in common with the girl. Materia regrets being outcast from her family and becomes depressed. They do manage to have three daughters: Kathleen, Mercedes and Frances. James throws his energies into making Kathleen an opera singer. His pride is his downfall. There is not much more I can say without giving away a lot of the story. What I can say is that by the end of the book, I had changed my opinion of every one of the Pipers a dozen times.

The book is full of lyrical passages like this:

"The night is bright with the moon. Look down over Water Street. On the lonely stretch between where the houses end and where the sea bites the land, a tree casts a network of shadow that stirs and bloats in one spot, as though putting forth dark fruit that droops, then drops from the bough."

MacDonald switches point-of-view often, at one point changes into the present tense, which was perfect for the urgency in the scene. She also uses letters and diaries to tell the story of the people no longer present. Food, music and religion play major roles in the plot.

At times, I thought I was going to lose my mind, the story takes bizarre turns (Frances) but at the end I felt like I had an answer to some of the insanity. Although the story is dark, I didn’t feel that it was depressing. There is an undercurrent of Hope and Forgiveness. The ending gave me chills and called to mind the end of Wuthering Heights. MacDonald must be a fan of the Brontes; Jane Eyre is mentioned often.

Although probably not for everyone, I think this book will become a favorite for me. I'd read it again for the writing. I also have theories about the end, maybe I'd find more clues with a reread.


Also Reviewed By: Wendy @ Caribousmom


  1. This book has been on my shelf for a while now. I hope to get to get this year. Great review.

  2. You definitely make this one worth reading, Chris. I read The Way the Crow Flies by this same author and fell in love with Ann-Marie MacDonald's writing. Maybe this can be one of next year's chunksters. :-)

  3. I've got this on one of my List of Bests lists. It's good to know a little about it before I go after it.

  4. Chris, I read this one not long ago and also really liked it - I gave it a 4/5). I have her other book (The Way the Crow Flies) on my TBR shelf.

  5. The List of Bests is a website that gives you check lists for any goal you set. Some are pre-made or you can make your own. I have 7 lists. I've got the Pulitzer Prize winners, Oprah's Selections and Oscar winning best pictures to name a few. Check it out.

  6. I read this book long ago. I really liked it but I haven't read her other book yet. You made me think, though, I hated Rockabound, and now maybe you hit on why.

  7. I also quite enjoyed the novel. It's nice to see a review from someone who lives on Cape Breton! I'm curious as to what your theories are about the end?

  8. I read this book (about 7 years ago, I think?) with a book club, and I really loved it. I think everyone else did, too. I can't remember tons of details, though, so I think I'll reread it!

  9. Kailana- Funny, I really liked Rockbound.

    Kimmie- Thanks for the info.

  10. Nyssaneala


    My thoughts are that Leo and Frances were possessed by Kathleen. Leo saw Rose at the Jazz club and felt funny. He felt that way until he did it with Frances. And Frances was waiting to do something big- she'd know it when she saw it. As to why, well, maybe this was Kathleen's way of having her own 'love child' for Rose. Anthony was musically inclined as well, although Leo wasn't and Frances only a little bit. It didn't make any sense to me that Leo would have sex with Frances when he loved his wife. He just had to and Frances was so out of control. I didn't understand until Anthony showed up at Rose's apartment and then some of the pieces fit. Anyway, I think I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

  11. I really want to read this sometime. I had it on my list and then had to move it to 2008.

    Thanks for the review!

  12. That's an interesting theory, Chris, thanks for posting. I read it very recently, so I think I'll be going back and looking at the ending again. That's definitely not a perspective I thought of!

  13. I tried your little title toy at the bottom of your blog, and here's what I got!

    "Her Exalted Highness Duchess Dewey the Unusual of Bumswick by the Hole"

    I wish I could be duchess of the unusual for a place that had a more dignified name!

  14. Dewey- lol! Yeah, Bumswick of the Hole doesn't sound very polite.

  15. I'm glad you liked this one Chris (I reviewed in about a month ago and you popped by and mentioned you were going to read it, so here I am).

    Anyway, I didn't really pick up on the comparison between WH (my favorite classic) and FOYK except for maybe the moors, which you explained beautifully. I think the comparison works...this book still haunts me!

    Best wishes.


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