Books·Canadian

Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald

A novel about young woman growing up in 19th century Britain.

A novel about young woman growing up in 19th century Britain

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. (From Knopf Canada)

Ann-Marie MacDonald, born in Germany, now lives between Toronto and Montreal. She's the author of bestselling novels. In addition to writing, she was the host of CBC's Doc Zone for eight years.

In 1996, MacDonald released her debut novel Fall on Your Knees and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize. The book was a finalist for Canada Reads in 2010, defended by Perdita Felicien. 

Her second novel The Way the Crow Flies, another Giller Prize finalist, was published in 2003. Her latest novel Adult Onset was published in 2014.

From the book

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.


Excerpted from Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonaldCopyright © 2022 Ann-Marie MacDonald. Published by Knopf Canada, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

Other books by Ann-Marie McDonald

 

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now

now