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Downhill Chance

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With Kit’s Law, Donna Morrissey established herself as a gifted storyteller. Her chronicle of life in a remote Newfoundland outport was acclaimed by critics and embraced by readers worldwide. Downhill Chance is a captivating successor to Morrissey’s first novel. Set in a pair of isolated fishing communities in Newfoundland during and after the Second World War, this is the story of two families joined by friendship but torn apart by fear and sorrows.

Prude Osmond reads her tea leaves and predicts dark days ahead. Meanwhile, an hour’s boat ride away, Job Gale leaves his wife and two young daughters behind to fight in the war, a cause neither they nor their neighbors understand. The war and the dark secrets it holds cascade over the Gale family, afflicting the sensitive yet resourceful Clair, an unforgettable heroine. Forced to restart her life in another place, she must forsake the family she loves and her community.

Morrissey blends drama, gritty realism, and a flair for the comic in this unique novel. At its core is the unravelling of secrets — and the redemption that truth ultimately brings.

448 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Donna Morrissey

14 books219 followers

Donna Morrissey has written six nationally bestselling novels. She has received awards in Canada, the U.S., and England. Her novel Sylvanus Now was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, and she was nominated for a Gemini for best writing for the film Clothesline Patch. Her fiction has been translated into several different languages. Born and raised in Newfoundland, she now lives in Halifax.
She recently wrote a children’s book, Cross Katie Kross, illustrated by her daughter, Bridget. Morrissey grew up in The Beaches, a small fishing outport in Newfoundland & Labrador and now lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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5 stars
167 (25%)
4 stars
283 (42%)
3 stars
175 (26%)
2 stars
24 (3%)
1 star
13 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 48 reviews
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 4 books21 followers
July 27, 2019
“Downhill Chance” is one of Donna Morrissey’s longer novels and that’s a very good thing. Morrissey is one of my favourite writers. I always want more as I read her works, so the more pages the better.

“Downhill Chance” is the story of two Newfoundland families whose fates are linked by marriage, by tragedy and by the ravages of WW2. Both families are haunted by dark secrets that reverberate from one generation to the next. Clair Gales is the compelling heroine who anchors all the other characters as she navigates her own rollercoaster fate.

Morrissey is a master of melodrama. She is also particularly adept at portraying the way of life and dialect of Newfoundland outporters. Both talents are prominently on display in “Downhill Chance” which may just be her best work.
384 reviews
October 12, 2016
I am really going to miss this book; the people really got under my skin. Imagine having these folk in tiny outports being the centre of a book about WWll and about the Confederation issue. The events are huge in Canadian history, yet the way they play out in these little lives and the horrible results in some cases, become much bigger to the reader.
I felt some confusion as to where we were in the narrative, as Morrisey switches back and forth in time, almost in the same sentence sometimes and I felt things got a little drawn out, but in the end I thought her rhythm was masterful. We are led at increasing speed to the ending, as though we were on a "downhill chance".
Interesting too is the way a tight-knit, clannish community is portrayed as holding you up when you need them or interfering in your business to the point of nausea.
352 reviews3 followers
October 29, 2020
The story of a family torn apart by the decision of a father and respected member of the community to fight in World War II when the rest of the men decided not to serve. The family is destroyed by the town and by their relations who use and abuse them.
When the father returns he is tormented by his experience. We later learn that he cared so much for his fellows that he constantly put himself at greatest risk and that he accidentally killed one of the other Newfoundlanders he was helping.
The protagonist is his oldest daughter who through the story comes to stop blaming and hopefully to start living again—able to take the downhill chance. A reference to sliding in the winter.
While it is a good story, Morrisey is compared to Thomas Hardy on the dust cover which is a good analogy as it is long and full of heartfelt moments.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
12 reviews
October 17, 2010
Different. I've never read or heard anything about Newfoundland. I thought it was an excellently told story, especially because it still comes to mind a long time after reading it.
31 reviews5 followers
August 12, 2018
Donna Morrissey has a knack for creating characters who pull you into their lives by the end of page one. She quickly constructs her setting with such vivid descriptions that before you are aware of it, you are living the events alongside the characters. Downhill Chance is set in outport Newfoundland in the 1940s. It depicts the hard scrabble life in a small community cut off from the rest of the world and living through desperate times. It is a story of the tragedy of war not only for the soldiers who survived, but also for those who were left behind. The story is told from the viewpoint of a young girl and the reader is instantly drawn to her and experiences everything through her eyes. I was a little disappointed with some of the other character development – the people I should have cared for from the beginning were not appealing to me. By the time the story came together, it was really too late. But perhaps that was the point after all. Excellent read.
851 reviews
February 21, 2012
This is a beautifully written novel that describes ,in Newfoundland argot, the hard life of the outports where men extract a difficult & dangerous living from fishing, logging, and hunting, while the women support them with affection & household chores. It takes place during the late 1930's & ends some times after confederation(1948). It deals with 2 small outports & interweaves 3 families through friendship, jealousy, tragedy & death, marriage & childbirth.
The main characters are well described & hold our sympathy & interest. The landscape & seascape are never far from human activities & set the mood & frame the action. One gets a real feel for the life & struggles of the Newfoundland outports.
Profile Image for Kennedy.
1 review
August 25, 2010
Luke turned to him. "Courage?" he asked incredulously. "I ran like chickenshit."
Profile Image for Deane.
720 reviews2 followers
April 23, 2021
This story was so dark and full of sorrow, hard luck, poverty, desperation and fear, I almost gave up on it....but the last third of the story starts bringing answers to what happened before WWII, during the war and its result on the tiny communities in northern Newfoundland.
There is a lot of campaigning going on as Newfoundlanders debate about joining Canada which they finally did in 1949...now people had access to old age pensions, better health care, Children's allowances, etc. Roads were starting to be built to join up the many tiny outport settlements to the dismay of the 'older folks' who said the roads weren't needed...no one had cars; only boats.
I felt so sad for Clair Gale, the 'constant' in the story, whose father volunteered to go overseas to fight in WWII when none of the other men in the nearby outports went....they hid in caverns and in the forests when the military ship came to pick them up but Clair's father, Job went. He came back injured both physically and mentally much to the dismay of his family and the community.
It's hard to imagine living in an outport village of 6 houses but Clair goes there to teach in the school grades one to six after her parents die. The relationship between Clair and her sister, Missy as well as her Uncle Sim was full of dislike, pain, lying and heartbreak as well as understanding.
The ending and the epilogue redeemed the story for me.
Profile Image for Linda Saunders.
207 reviews
November 16, 2020

I must confess that I have been a fan since I read Kit’s Law, many years ago,
and was surprised to find that this one has escaped me til now.
I found “Downhill Chance” both beautifully written and compelling.

Donna Morrissey’s stories aren’t for the faint of heart... they’re gritty, graphic, expansive and chock a block full of thought provoking snippets about life. Especially life on The Rock... where Newfoundlanders have been surviving and thriving by their wits, their skills and more importantly, their tenacity long before joining Canada 🇨🇦 and up to current day.
Morrissey’s prose gives voice to her characters in a way that always intrigues. Her characters aren’t featherweights...they are complex and recognizable as gut wrenchingly real.

Methinks we all need a “Downhill Chance” ... with a little understanding, redemption, forgiveness, and a lot of love under the sled 🛷
Profile Image for Kelly  Anne.
276 reviews1 follower
May 11, 2020
3½ Stars
I read this book immediately after reading the author’s previous publication ‘Kit’s Law’. As with that book ‘Downhill Chance’ didn’t really grab my interest until well into the story. I liked more of the characters in this one than in the previous books and the portrayal of the mental anguish inflicted on a soldier returning from WWII is well done. There are similarities between the two books; both main characters leave a small outport full of petty, small-minded, cruel people to find solace and acceptance among those of an even smaller outport and one thing that the author certainly does well is create characters so vile you want to reach into the story and strangle the life out of them. I like the bit of a glimpse of the political scene of Newfoundland joining Confederation in 1949 and with ‘Downhill Chance’ much more so than ‘Kit’s Law’ the reader gets a feel for the colour of Newfoundland speech. You may need an online dictionary or, like I have, a Newfie friend that you can call for help.
57 reviews
August 7, 2018
I picked up this book in a used book store, because I had read another book by the same author. I was not disappointed! This is another amazing story about life in the desolate areas along the Newfoundland coast, and how the characters in the book find meaning, and hope, and love in the midst of their hard lives and tragedy. A very good read!
Profile Image for Ramona Jennex.
851 reviews4 followers
August 27, 2019
Donna Morrissey is a superb storyteller! Not only does she give her characters an authentic voice, she grounds her reader with a deep sense of place within a rich story.
I had to stop to ponder some of the comments her characters made throughout the book (An example- "fate resides within time as life within the seed that impregnates it." )
I highly recommend Downhill Chance!
May 2, 2023
I like all the elements in this novel and the way it ties together in the end, but I found it really difficult to get into. I really dragged out reading it because I wasn’t enjoying the long chapters and slow plot. It’s more of a vibe book than one with a fixed plot if that makes any sense. I’m glad I read to the end though:)
Profile Image for Zoe.
43 reviews
October 27, 2017
I didn't care much for this book and found it extremely slow going. The second half of the book was better than the first - but not by much. I only persevered with this book as I couldn't not finish it having already given on a different book this year!
Profile Image for Susan Quenneville.
367 reviews1 follower
November 1, 2017
A complicated yet fascinating read about life in a small Newfoundland town filled with superstition, abuse, and the ravages of the War. The story has a lovely ending with reconciliation between sisters due to the determination of nine-year old Hannah.
99 reviews
May 25, 2018
Nobody writes family like Donna Morrissey, and once again she has produced gripping story of the power of fear, shame and love.

On top of the story itself, she invokes the geography of time and place so beautifully and terribly that I dreamt it every night.
Profile Image for Debbie.
199 reviews
April 4, 2019
Donna Morrissey is an extremely talented storyteller. Written beautifully ,Downhill Chance takes us to Newfoundland, immersing us into the lives of two families, the Osmonds and Gales. Morrissey's narrative had me feeling like I was living the story, not just reading about it.

Excellent read.
389 reviews
May 26, 2019
What a great story. Written during and after WW2, it paints an interesting picture of life in Newfoundland's outports--the families and friends and how they search for answers and understanding of life.
August 25, 2020
After reading Kit’s Law I couldn’t wait to read Downhill Chance. I was not disappointed and really enjoyed this book. There were many layers to the story and many of the characters had their secrets and their burden to bear. I’m looking forward to reading her next book.
437 reviews2 followers
August 18, 2021
This was a lovely book in many ways. The descriptions of people and place were magnificent. The deep, deep love that wound through the story was sublime. The ending was perfect. I did find the abrupt shifts of time and storyline sometimes a bit confusing and frustrating.
Profile Image for Lester.
1,300 reviews
October 11, 2017
Now I know what touten is....'a type of traditional pancake commonly made in Newfoundland'..yum!
Thankx Donna Morrissey.
26 reviews
May 3, 2018
Ok Donna, I don’t have a newfi vocab. Nor do I understand the outpost mentality that you do but could you be kinder to us mainlanders and explain to us what the hell is going on in your novel!!!
Profile Image for Denise.
285 reviews3 followers
December 9, 2021
Donna Morrissey is one of my favorite authors. Her books always make me feel like I'm back home in rural Newfoundland.
Profile Image for Lori Bosworth.
50 reviews1 follower
July 8, 2019
I love reading Canadian fiction set in Newfoundland. It's so interesting to read about the vastly different lifestyle and culture that is greatly influenced by the weather. I also love the Newfoundland dialect reflecting the folksy warmth of its people. I can't believe it took me almost three years to read this book! I picked it up, read a few chapters and then would put it down in favour of a book offering more excitement...but I should have powered through because this story greatly picks up speed in the second half. Months went by when I did not pick up this book and yet I was still able to remember the characters and plot when I would resume reading it, which is very unusual for me. The story of the Gale family takes place in post-WWII Newfoundland before it became a province of Canada. The patriarch, Job Gale, has returned home from war carrying an unbearably heavy secret, which affects the lives of those around him. I love the strength of all three female characters: Clair, Missy and Hannah. Their strength is definitely born out of living on a rugged landscape surrounded by a formidable ocean. Once you get used to reading the Newfoundland dialect, you will become very attached to these proud and fierce characters.
Profile Image for Elise.
47 reviews2 followers
March 8, 2012
I almost didn't finish this book, but struggled through it. I found that it was a chore to keep up with the storyline. The author had moments of lovely writing interspersed throughout, but I found it wasted on this book because of the general negative theme. The dialect didn't really seem accurate and there were situations that didn't jive with the Canadian way of life. For instance, at one point someone was drinking iced tea for breakfast. My mother being a Canadian, I know that wouldn't have taken place. The whole saga with Missy going to live with her uncle and aunt seemed almost sinister, and at one point left me with the feeling that she was being abused physically. The ending seemed to play out way too long, or maybe I was just anxious for it to end.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,216 reviews
January 12, 2011
I could almost not stop reading this book. Beautiful writing and compelling story. It is so strange for me when a setting far far from my own tells me a truth and makes me feel that the author is speaking in my own voice even.(It happened even more strongly with the first Nadine Gordimer book I read) The story is set in remote Newfoundland around the time of WW II. Most of the story is told from the perspective of two young girls - Clair and then later, her daughter Hannah. It deals with confronting the past in order to encounter the present - a common enough theme but beautifully told.
Profile Image for Evi.
713 reviews8 followers
March 11, 2015
This is my second Donna Morrissey novel and she did not disappoint. Again she takes the reader off on a journey to the wild Newfoundland landscape and a pair of isolated outport villages in the bleak years during and after WWII.

Over at Rocky Head, Prude Osmond reads her tea leaves and predicts dark days ahead. At the Basin, an hour's boat ride away, Job Gale decides to join the war, leaving behind his wife, Sare and two daughters, Clair and Missy.

At the core of the book is the unravelling of secrets that haunt the tiny villages.
Profile Image for Roy.
143 reviews4 followers
July 25, 2011
It was a hard one to get into but I persisted to the end and that is saying something . Too much foolishiness about fairies and such and I hope that is not her best book . Some of the things the chatacters were doing was bizarre and unreal and therefore unbelivable , so that takes away from the story as such . And it was hard to follow the story through . Ah , just not one of the real good reads but okay to past away the time as I see it .
315 reviews
January 18, 2016
This novel about forgiveness of oneself and others delivers a real sense of what it was like to live in rural coastal Newfoundland in the 1940's and 50's. The main characters, sisters Clair and Missy, are well drawn, as is Clair's daughter Hannah. The story has such an epic quality to it that I wanted to rated it higher than 3 stars, but it's a bit long-winded and some characters are more caricature than flesh and blood: Prude, the sisters' grandmother and Uncle Sim, for example.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 48 reviews

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