Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald

At the barony of Fayne, a disputed holding on the border of Scotland and England, bright young Charlotte is turning twelve. The only daughter of Lord Henry Bell, the Seventeenth Baron DC de Fayne, Charlotte has been sheltered her whole life, owing to an unspecified condition.

But at twelve years old, curious and brilliant, with no obvious weakness or delicacy, Charlotte is presented with a tutor for her birthday, a gift from her doting father, who instructs Mr. Margalo to teach Charlotte as if she were his son. Racing off to learn as much as she possibly can – and maybe, once Mr. Margalo plants the idea into her head, she will be able to attend university, and become a medical doctor. Interspersed with Charlotte’s days and leaps and bounds in learning are letters from Charlotte’s mother, long deceased, to her closest friend Taffy. Fayne is a sweeping novel, bouncing between Charlotte’s present in 1888, and her mother’s letters some fifteen or so years prior. As Charlotte’s life changes and is allowed to engage with the world outside of Fayne even more, she starts to realize all is not exactly what it seems within the walls of Fayne or her family: what really happened to her mother, or her brother Charles? Why has she been tucked away at the castle instead of being allowed to go to school or the family home in Edinburgh? And why, all of a sudden, is her father insisting she dress like a lady? Charlotte is eager to get what she wants, an education, but the steps to get there unveil a number of damaging family secrets, and ones that will cause her to question everything she knows, including who on earth she is.

“It’s been eight years since Ann-Marie MacDonald last published a novel, and Fayne has been hotly anticipated since it was announced.”

It’s been eight years since Ann-Marie MacDonald last published a novel, and Fayne has been hotly anticipated since it was announced. For anyone who is familiar with MacDonald’s other books, you’ll see the common themes: tangled family relationships, identity, gender, and gender roles throughout history. This felt more cohesive in terms of the story flow, even as MacDonald often jumped time, place, and narrator without many indications.

I really enjoyed Fayne, though none of the twists were shocking. At 736 pages, it is lengthy and sometimes meandering; it took more than one hundred pages for me to really get into the story. But Charlotte is a sweet, naïve, funny narrator; her inquisitive nature combined with her sheltered existence often leads to misunderstandings. Unfortunately, this is also used against her.

MacDonald excels at telling a story with morally ambiguous characters, a complex historical situation, and a beautiful, atmospheric setting: the moors at Fayne figure largely in Charlotte’s story, as well as her mother’s. I think MacDonald makes a number of very excellent observations about gender identity and gender roles; though set in the 19th century, there are several lessons to carry through to the present day. However, despite its beauty, I think this will be a polarizing novel. The form is not easy to follow, and the ending section felt rushed in comparison to the other parts – in a 736-page novel, there’s no need to rush! And there is a thread of magical realism throughout the novel, but much like this review where I tacked it on at the end, I don’t think it added very much to the story.

Ultimately, I enjoyed Fayne, though it’s a bit of a prickly novel to love. It is rewarding if you allow yourself to stick with it, despite a somewhat plodding start. And Charlotte will surprise you with her spirit throughout.


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 KneesThe Way the Crow Flies, and Adult Onset. Ann-Marie is a graduate of the Acting Program of The National Theatre School of Canada.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Knopf Canada (Oct. 11 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 736 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0735276633
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0735276635

 -- Website

Alison Manley has ricocheted between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia for most of her life. Now in Halifax, Nova Scotia, she is the Cataloguing and Metadata Librarian at Saint Mary's University. Her past life includes a long stint as a hospital librarian on the banks of the mighty Miramichi River. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. While she's adamant that her love of reading has nothing to do with her work, her ability to consume large amounts of information very quickly sure is helpful. She is often identified by her very red lipstick, and lives with her partner Brett and cat, Toasted Marshmallow.

1 thought on “Fayne by Ann-Marie MacDonald”

  1. “….but much like this review where I tacked it on at the end, I don’t think it added very much to the story.”
    Ha, nice.

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