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Speak, Adam

Speak, Adam, formerly published as A Rumour of Strangers in 1987, is the second novel by the literary historian, Moira Burgess. Returning to her former home area of Argyll, Speak, Adam is set in the gossiping town of 'Finavay' where little escapes the notice of the local tongues. The arrival then of highly-strung Christa Beresford and her husband Billy, who are attempting to open their new home as a bed-and-breakfast establishment, is grist to the mill for the prying and judging nature of Finavay folk. Christa's intent to blend into the local area is conditioned by her childhood memories of Finavay and, having recently suffered a personal trauma, she looks to inappropriate comforts to make some sense of her present self. These comforts circulate around a group of itinerant travellers - a young child and a lustful young man holding particular fascination for Christa. As the novel develops the imperfect human behaviour patterns of this small town community emerge. These culminate in an illustration of what happens when the desires of the physical body take precedence over the intelligent. Speak, Adam is then an explicit anti-Kailyard portrayal of a West Highland village which assertively refuses the lure of sentiment and romanticism but nonetheless is still capable of a measure of grace. Moira Burgess is a novelist, short story writer and literary historian, born in Campbeltown, Argyll, and now living in Glasgow. Writing has been the most important part of her life since childhood and she has published two novels, The Day Before Tomorrow (1971, reprinted 2009) and Speak, Adam. For some years she worked mainly on non-fiction, publishing The Glasgow Novel: a bibliography (3rd edition 1999) and a book on the same topic, Imagine a City (1998). Author of Mitchison's Ghosts, a study of the supernatural and mythical elements in the work of Naomi Mitchison, she is now working on an edition of Mitchison's collected prose.
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'It is a truly wonderful story, a marvellous evocation of a small town in Scotland - ruthless and convincing. It is... a superior thriller, with marvellously-etched characters, and the chorus of gossips is finely done. There is great realism, insight, compassion.' George Mackay Brown, 1987. 'The stripping of Protestant respectability comes out in brilliant bits of conversation, some very funny indeed. Moira Burgess has a perfect ear for it. But never think that the author is harsh with her characters. She understands, she sympathises, she knows just why Christa finds herself doing those rather dreadful things that come her way'. Naomi Mitchison, Glasgow Herald, 1987. Both Reviews are of the book's first publication - as A Rumour of Strangers - in 1987.

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