THE INSTANT #1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE 2023 PARAGRAPHE HUGH MACLENNAN PRIZE FOR FICTION
A GLOBE AND MAIL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR
ONE OF CBC’S BEST CANADIAN FICTION BOOKS OF 2022
A beloved writer returns with a tale of science, magic, love and identity.
In the late nineteenth century, Charlotte Bell is growing up at Fayne, a vast and lonely estate straddling the border between England and Scotland, where she has been kept from the world by her adoring father, Lord Henry Bell, owing to a mysterious condition. Charlotte, strong and insatiably curious, revels in the moorlands, and has learned the treacherous and healing ways of the bog from the old hired man, Byrn, whose own origins are shrouded in mystery. Her idyllic existence is shadowed by the magnificent portrait on the landing in Fayne House which depicts her mother, a beautiful Irish-American heiress, holding Charlotte’s brother, Charles Bell. Charlotte has grown up with the knowledge that her mother died in giving birth to her, and that her older brother, Charles, the long-awaited heir, died soon afterwards at the age of two. When Charlotte’s appetite for learning threatens to exceed the bounds of the estate, her father breaks with tradition and hires a tutor to teach his daughter “as you would my son, had I one.” But when Charlotte and her tutor’s explorations of the bog turn up an unexpected artefact, her father announces he has arranged for her to be cured of her condition, and her world is upended. Charlotte’s passion for knowledge and adventure will take her to the bottom of family secrets and to the heart of her own identity.
About the author
Ann-Marie MacDonald is an award-winning novelist, playwright, actor, and broadcast host. Her writing for the stage includes the plays Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), Belle Moral: A Natural History, and Hamlet-911, along with the libretto for the chamber opera Nigredo Hotel, and book and lyrics for the musical Anything That Moves. She is the author of the bestselling novels Fall On Your Knees, The Way the Crow Flies, and Adult Onset. Ann-Marie is a graduate of the acting program of the National Theatre School of Canada. In 2018 she was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in recognition of her contribution to the arts and her LGBTQ2SI+ activism. She is married to theatre director Alisa Palmer, with whom she has two children.
- Winner, The Quebec Writers' Federation Literary Award - Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction
Excerpt: Fayne: A Novel (by (author) Ann-Marie MacDonald)
Out in the great hall, a draft set to dancing the flames of the candelabra at the foot of the marble staircase such that high overhead, the antlers seemed to leap in fear from the huntsman; swords and axes clashed anew, captured colours seemed once more to fly. On the far side of the staircase, a triangle of light from Father's study door signalled he had begun his day's work. My father's nocturnal habits were owing to the weakness of his eyes which rendered him prey to headache with exposure to sunlight — even in its oft-dimmed form at Fayne. Thus his day began when mine ended.
I crossed the hall and put my head round the door. He looked up with a smile. "Charlotte, my own." He shifted his chair, making space for me at his side. I, however, did not take my place on the stool.
"How was your day, my dear?"
"Capital, Father. I saw a badger."
"Did you, now." He returned his attention to his desktop where he was restoring the head of a great tit.
It was our habit to while away an evening's hour in sorting and restoring specimens or reading aloud; tonight, however, I was at a loss to dispel the dullness that had descended unaccountably upon me, and so pleaded sleepiness brought on by wholesome exertion. "Goodnight, Father." I bent and kissed his temple. He reached round and patted my head.
"Goodnight, my treasure."
I plucked a candle and ascended the marble stairs, careful as usual to lower my eyes lest they meet those in the portrait that towered above the landing. Nor, as I passed by the heavy gilt frame and commenced to mount the leftward branch, did I draw breath until the turning at the top of the stairs dispelled the sense of a painted gaze upon my back.
My bedtime ablutions were attended by the usual fuss and prayerful palaver of Mrs. Knox, with the addition this evening of a poultice of moor moss applied to the angry abrasions on my inner thighs, thanks to Maisie.
"You're wanting a saddle, lassie."
"Really, Knoxy, who ever heard of saddling a sow?"
My day had been perfectly ordinary. And for the first time, I deemed this unsatisfactory.
“MacDonald masterfully combines elements of science, magic, and gothic intrigue to construct a world that is as beguiling as it is treacherous. The narrative navigates the complexities of gender roles with finesse, challenging conventional norms and reflecting the timeless struggle for self-discovery and autonomy. With over seven hundred pages, Fayne may appear daunting, but MacDonald’s storytelling prowess ensures that each page is a captivating revelation.” —2023 Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction Jury
"A reinvention for the bestselling author. . . . MacDonald is wildly successful in creating a rich Victorian world as seen through a young person’s eyes. . . . With its tenderness and twists that recall Charles Dickens' Bleak House and the upstairs-downstairs dynamics of shows like Downton Abbey, MacDonald’s fourth novel is a paean to the act of storytelling and a triumph that challenges the constructs of gender.” —Quill and Quire (starred review)
“[An] impeccably atmospheric Gothic masterpiece. . . . [Fayne] is deeply perceptive, a story of sharp turns and blurred boundaries which negotiates Victorian fears about the loss of power and meaning while also illustrating MacDonald's contemporary concerns about nature. . . . The story is enticingly tight, which makes its hairpin twists and turns even more impressive.” —The Irish Times
“This, [MacDonald’s] fourth novel, is as rich, ambitious and multi-layered as fans will have come to expect. . . . Wonderfully, elaborately Gothic, ambitious in its scope and language—a mix of late nineteenth-century English, Scots and Gaelic. . . . MacDonald has created a vivid, hugely likeable character in Charlotte, in all her curiosity and unintentional comedy. This is fiction at its best, skillfully capturing life’s chaos and the boundaries that are supposed to contain it, a story of death and desire and beating, bloody hearts.” —Financial Times (Best Books of the Week)
"Engrossing, gorgeous, funny. . . . Fayne illuminates the experience of being queer before such things were discussed openly." —The Globe and Mail
"Budding scientist Charlotte's voice is an effervescent delight. . . . [Fayne is] a zeitgeisty paean to boundary-defying love, friendship and the beauty of this endangered planet. I confess to a lump in my throat." —Daily Mail
“Richly and minutely detailed . . . Fayne is . . . a subtle meditation on gender identity and environmental degradation that feels precisely attuned to the present. MacDonald’s work has always featured outcasts, and Fayne is her celebration of every marvelous living thing that flourishes on the margins, refusing to be categorized or controlled.” —The Walrus
“A complex tale of constrictive forces and stifling norms . . . Fayne interrogates and spoofs integral aspects of the late Victorian era—sexuality, gender, class, science.” —Toronto Star
“A perfectly plotted, Victorian-era delight. . . . [Fayne] proves that MacDonald’s artistic skill continues to grow. . . . A remarkable accomplishment.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“Magnificent. . . . A master of her craft . . . MacDonald pushes up against the notion of how painful it can be to have expectations forced upon you that go against your sense of self. . . . Although set in the late nineteenth-century, the themes and issues she explores feel contemporary, timeless even: addiction, betrayal, belonging, identity, love, social justice, women’s rights. . . . Lose yourself in the tale of Fayne. And find yourself in its telling.” —NOW Magazine
“A richly imagined story anchored in a meticulously detailed setting. . . . [Fayne] unfurls into a multi-generational epic.” —Chatelaine
“Magnificent. . . . [MacDonald] skillfully marries the mystical with the scientific, her nature-honouring opus illuminated with flashes of humour. She explores timeless themes like loyalty and betrayal within love and friendship, while addressing issues of gender and sex with great depth and sincerity. At the centre of it all, amid scenery fit for a fairytale, lively Charlotte holds readers rapt as she untangles family secrets coiled at the heart of intergenerational wounds. . . . In a moving and poetic finale, the unforgettable Fayne slips beneath one’s skin like an electric enchantment.” —The Montreal Review of Books
“A big, bold, beautiful book . . . with a grand architectural frame built on themes of succession, identity, feminism, magic, and environmentalism.” —Zoomer Book Club
“MacDonald has succeeded in crafting a narrative that maintains a propulsive pace throughout its whopping seven-hundred-plus pages. . . . Fayne is a mammoth book with momentum.” —Xtra
“A sprawling saga so rich one could drown in its pellucid depths. . . . [Fayne] spills over with details of dress, scientific discoveries, slang (delicious stroppy slang), and all the large-scale action of the nineteenth century.” —The Tyee
"A wonderfully clever and wickedly funny book, which carries the weight of its themes of identity and self-image with a buoyant grace and passion." —Donal Ryan, author of Strange Flowers
"Exhilarating, funny and deeply moving. Ann-Marie MacDonald’s talent is, quite simply, staggering." —Sophie White, author of Filter This
"If I read a better book this year then I’ll count myself lucky. . . . I envy anyone who gets to read it for the first time." —Aoife Martin