A Beautiful Truth by Colin McAdam

The blurred line between humans and animals is a familiar one, both in science and in literature. In his latest novel, Colin McAdam has vividly woven these worlds together with humour and tenderness.

It is 1972, and while they live happily married in rural Vermont, Walt and Judy Ribke long for a child. But when Judy is left infertile after an operation, Walt becomes driven by his desire to ward off his wife’s deepening sadness. A chance reading of a magazine article, and the era’s leniency regarding ownership of exotics, leads him to adopt a baby male chimpanzee, named Looee.

Running parallel to the unlikely story of the Ribke clan, McAdam paints a portrait of the Girdish Institute, a primate research centre based in Florida, where Dr David Kennedy closely monitors the lives of his captive chimpanzees. So begins a curious and often profound study of the basic nature that humans and animals share.

While the chapters describing the Ribkes’ lives and the meaning Looee brings to them are rich and warm, their world is cleverly juxtaposed with that of the chimps at the field institute. McAdam’s research into the inner mind of the primate is impressive, as are the passages he tells almost completely from the apes’ perspectives. The novel can be uneven at times, beginning with energy but slowing somewhat towards the middle, with some characters making appearances only briefly before being withdrawn from the central plot. What remains a constant, though, is the delicate movement between humans and animals, their empathy towards each other, and the imaginative connection that binds them: be it spouse, child, stranger or ape.

McAdam’s novel is not just a literary animal fable; it is a confident and edgy work, which expertly navigates shifts in voice and explores an abiding and intriguing subject.

Nicole Mansour