Early Life and Education
Due to his father’s career with Canada’s Foreign Service, Colin McAdam spent parts of his childhood and adolescence living in China, Denmark, England and Barbados, as well as a number of Canadian cities. He attended Ashbury College, a boarding school in Ottawa, and in 1989 he moved to Montréal, where he completed an undergraduate degree at McGill University with a major in English and a minor in Classics. He then studied Renaissance Literature at the University of Toronto, where he graduated with a master’s degree in English Literature in 1994.
In 1995, McAdam moved to England to begin his PhD at Cambridge University. He studied 17th Century Renaissance translations of Greek and completed his dissertation, “Greek Translations of The Interregnum (1642–1660)”, in 1998. Shortly after receiving his PhD, McAdam moved to Australia, where he worked as an editor at a legal publishing house for several years.
Some Great Thing (2004)
McAdam began writing his first novel, Some Great Thing (2004),while still at Cambridge, and continued to work on it in Australia. He composed most of the manuscript in a Grace Bros. Department Store in a mall on the outskirts of Sydney, taking breaks from writing to listen to music in the store’s “earphones section.” After being rejected by a number of publishers, he sent the manuscript to the poet Anne Carson — his Greek teacher at McGill — who passed it on to the New York literary agent Bill Clegg. Clegg was a big fan of the book, and Some Great Thing was first published in England and Finland, and then in North America, in 2004.
A highly original and ambitious novel about family, ambition, lust, love, and loss, Some Great Thing tells the contrasting stories of hard-nosed property developer Jerry McGuinty and privileged bureaucrat Simon Struthers. It is an epic tale written in symphonic prose that explores the deep internal dimensions of the characters. Some Great Thing won Amazon’s Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2004 and was a finalist for Governor General’s Literary Award, the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize in the United Kingdom.
In 2003, McAdam moved from Australia to Montreal, where he began work on his second novel, Fall, which was eventually published in 2009. Set in a prestigious boarding school similar to McAdam’s alma mater, Ashbury College, Fall is an exploration of isolation, power and intimacy. Told from the perspectives of two roommates, Noel and Julius, Fall revolves around competing for the attention of a beautiful female student, Fallon DeStindt.
As in Some Great Thing, McAdam combines a highly original prose style — Julius’s voice is captured in a flow of impulsive thoughts and desires — with a finely crafted, suspense-ridden narrative. Fall was widely praised for its depth, complexity and virtuosic use of language. It won the Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Giller Prize.
A Beautiful Truth (2014)
McAdam moved to Toronto in 2012 and turned his attention to great apes for his next novel, A Beautiful Truth, which was published in 2014. A Beautiful Truth opens in Vermont as a childless couple, Walter and Judy, adopt a chimpanzee, Looee, who was born in Sierra Leone, and raise him as their son for a number of years. After a violent act, Looee is sent to the Girdish Institute in Florida, where a group of chimpanzees have been studied for decades. McAdam writes the novel from both human and ape perspectives, creating a unique language that guides the reader deep into the consciousness of Looee and his fellow inmates at the Girdish Institute.
Praised for its inventive use of language, A Beautiful Truth is a story about friendship, empathy, loneliness and the enduring tragedy of our species’ blindness towards our own nature. A Beautiful Truth won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction Prize in 2014 and was selected as a Best Book of The Year by the Globe and Mail.
- Amazon/Books in Canada Best First Novel Award (Some Great Thing), Amazon.ca (2004)
- The Paragraphe Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction (Fall) (2009)
- Rogers Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction Prize (A Beautiful Truth) 2014