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Adam's Peak by Heather Burt
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Adam's Peak

by Heather Burt

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Two families live side by side in a middle-class Montreal neighbourhood: the Frasers, who emigrated from Scotland in the 1960s, and the Vantwests, who left life on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) around the same time. For decades these two families, with their secrets and sorrows, remain two solitudes – until tragedy opens their doors.

Since he was a child of seven, Rudy Vantwest has carried on a fantasy relationship with Clare Fraser without ever acting on it. Now in his early thirties, having returned to Sri Lanka intending to settle, he is still writing imaginary letters to his unblemished, untouched muse. Clare, meanwhile, is belatedly discovering her sexuality, making blundering attempts to turn a bad platonic relationship with an employer into a worse physical one. Her halting journey of self-discovery takes her from Vancouver to her mother’s hometown in Scotland.

It seems improbable that these restless souls will connect, but that hardly matters: the two family stories are absorbing in themselves. This fine first novel has much to offer: comedy and tragedy, domestic intimacy and panoramic sweep. The early scenes of childhood take time to come into focus, but once Burt’s characters hit puberty, the novel gains steadily in authority.

Burt, who grew up in Montreal and now teaches creative writing in Vancouver, mines her own travels to dramatic effect. The passages set in Sri Lanka, with its lush, oppressive heat and explosive violence, are especially vivid. It’s impressive too how Burt is able to bring to life such a large cast of characters – neighbours, old friends, relations – in a complex story that shrinks the globe.
added by VivienneR | editQuill and Quire, Maureen Garvie (Apr 14, 2013)
 
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Adam’s Peak, shortlisted for the 2008 Ethel Wilson Prize for fiction, travels between Sri Lanka, Canada and Scotland as two families cope with the repercussions of a tragic accident and an act of terror.
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On a stifling August day, six-year-old Clare Fraser and seven-year-old Rudy Vantwest make eye contact from opposite sides of their street. For an instant they are connected, then each turns away - Clare to the shelter of the garden sprinkler, Rudy to the excitement of his brother's impending birth. Twenty-five years later, Clare and Rudy, strangers living continents apart, fixtures of each other's memories and imaginations, are connected again. Overturning the guarded, insular lives they both lead, two events - one an accident, the other an act of terror - transform them both and bind the Vantwest and Fraser families irrevocably. Adam's Peak weaves back and forth between a Montreal suburb and a Colombo private school, between a Ceylon tea estate at the end of the Second World War and a small Scottish town in the early 1960s, its characters struggling desperately to come to terms with themselves and with their powerful connections to the people and places they have tried to escape.… (more)

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