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A Change in Altitude: A Novel Paperback – May 4, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Shreve (Testimony), who worked in Kenya as a journalist early in her career, returns to that country in her slow latest, the story of a photojournalist and her doctor husband, whose temporary relocation abroad goes sour. The year-long research trip is an opportunity for Patrick, but leaves Margaret floundering in colonialist culture shock, feeling like an actor in a play someone British had written for a previous generation. When a climbing trip to Mt. Kenya goes fatally wrong, Margaret's role in the tragedy drives a quiet wedge between the couple. Compounding those stressors are multiple robberies and adulterous temptations, as well as Margaret's freelance work for a controversial newspaper. Written in a strangely emotionless third person, the novel is stuffed with travelogues and vignettes of privileged expatriate life, including the chestnut of Margaret feeling very guilty about being given a rug she admires. While some of these moments aren't bad, the scant dramatic tension and direct-to-video plot make this a slog. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

As a young woman, Shreve spent three years working as a journalist in Nairobi, Kenya, and her vivid descriptions clearly show an affection for the East African nation. Unfortunately, most critics found the setting to be the novel's only redeeming quality. Shreve, known for crafting complex, multilayered protagonists, ultimately fails here. Critics unanimously expressed their disappointment in Margaret's character and described her as dull, unlikable, and frequently obtuse. The critic from the Los Angeles Times also felt that the constant use of "anachronisms in attitude and dialogue" rendered the book unreadable. A Change in Altitude is for die-hard Shreve fans only. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780316020718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316020718
  • ASIN: 0316020710
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (215 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #802,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Anita Shreve grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts (just outside Boston), the eldest of three daughters. Early literary influences include having read Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton when she was a junior in high school (a short novel she still claims as one of her favorites) and everything Eugene O'Neill ever wrote while she was a senior (to which she attributes a somewhat dark streak in her own work). After graduating from Tufts University, she taught high school for a number of years in and around Boston. In the middle of her last year, she quit (something that, as a parent, she finds appalling now) to start writing. "I had this panicky sensation that it was now or never."

Joking that she could wallpaper her bathroom with rejections from magazines for her short stories ("I really could have," she says), she published her early work in literary journals. One of these stories, "Past the Island, Drifting," won an O. Henry prize. Despite this accolade, she quickly learned that one couldn't make a living writing short fiction. Switching to journalism, Shreve traveled to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived for three years, working as a journalist for an African magazine. One of her novels, The Last Time They Met, contains bits and pieces from her time in Africa.

Returning to the United States, Shreve was a writer and editor for a number of magazines in New York. Later, when she began her family, she turned to freelancing, publishing in the New York Times Magazine, New York magazine and dozens of others. In 1989, she published her first novel, Eden Close. Since then she has written 14 other novels, among them The Weight of Water, The Pilot's Wife, The Last Time They Met, A Wedding in December, Body Surfing, Testimony,and A Change in Altitude.

In 1998, Shreve received the PEN/L. L. Winship Award and the New England Book Award for fiction. In 1999, she received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey, and The Pilot's Wife became the 25th selection of Oprah's Book Club and an international bestseller. In April 2002, CBS aired the film version of The Pilot's Wife, starring Christine Lahti, and in fall 2002, The Weight of Water, starring Elizabeth Hurley and Sean Penn, was released in movie theaters.

Still in love with the novel form, Shreve writes only in that genre. "The best analogy I can give to describe writing for me is daydreaming," she says. "A certain amount of craft is brought to bear, but the experience feels very dreamlike."

Shreve is married to a man she met when she was 13. She has two children and three stepchildren, and in the last eight years has made tuition payments to seven colleges and universities.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Shreve consistently delivers well-conceived novels, drawing from her understanding of character and the all too human flaws that inhabit each of us. The canvas for this novel is Africa in the late 1970s, Patrick a doctor, Margaret wielding her camera, taking in the variety of the country. Patrick absorbed in his research, Margaret is left to her own resources, by chance- and a broken-down vehicle- stumbling on an English expatriate couple, Arthur and Diana, who offer the newlyweds a charming cottage on their property. When the more sophisticated Brits announce a planned trek up Mt. Kenya, Margaret experiences some trepidation, but is soothed by Patrick's confidence. Tragically, the adventure ends in a shocking accident that changes all their lives.

Mischance, conflict, the emotional shifts of relationships: this is familiar territory for this author, who builds the first part of the novel with a sense of expectation and a frisson of danger. The signs are ominous, any number of problems poised to derail such a mission, serious physical issues that result from the changes in altitude while climbing the mountain. Unfortunately, it is the unknown that proves the undoing of the climbers, the small emotional disturbances that remain etched in the mind, the doubts and resentments that can't be dislodged by time.

Struggling to keep their marriage intact after the accident, Patrick and Margaret withdraw from conflict, each seeking resolution through time and concentrated effort. But the doubt has been planted, a subtle shift in the foundations of the marriage. Margaret throws herself into her photography, redefining her identity in this time and place, her work a source of income, validation and pride.
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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Denali VINE VOICE on September 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have read only 1 other book by Ms. Shreve. And I am disappointed with this one in comparison to the other.

I liked the setting - Africa - in the 1970s (I believe). It was interesting to read about the dynamics between the local tribes and the British/American residents.

Margaret, follows her husband, Patrick, to Africa from New England. Patrick is a doctor studying disease. Margaret is a photographer. Early on in the story, Margaret and Patrick join a British couple on a climb of Mt. Kenya. The climb ends in disaster and since this event, Margaret and Patrick lose ground on their marriage. The story continues with Patrick and Margaret's strife. At one point, they think their marriage is better and then it is not.

Overall, I had absolutely no compassion nor feeling toward Margaret. I found her to be quite annoying. She constantly dwells on the tragedy and lets it affect her marriage to Patrick. Instead of trying to resolve the conflicts, they both just plod along hoping things to get better. Patrick, to me, was awful! A quite 2-dimensional character seeming to have been inserted into the story to only add grief and irritation to Margaret. The marriage was also lacking substance. The ending? HORRIBLE! I couldn't believe that we would go through all that trouble to read the story only to be left with an ending that didn't resolve anything and seemed too abrupt. (I don't want to give any spoilers).
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47 of 54 people found the following review helpful By mzglorybe VINE VOICE on August 29, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
One thing she usually does so well is to get us involved and caring about the characters early on. That didn't happen for me in this one. Her last novel Testimony reeled me in from the get-go, as some of her others have also done, but with this one I just couldn't find myself caring one way or the other whether they made it up the mountain or not (and later on whether their marriage survived or not).

Granted, reading about Africa, especially the Nairobi area is not one of my favorite settings. The thievery, the poverty, filth, disrespect of women and violence toward them and children, just all of it is depressing. Also the main gist of the novel, a young recently married couple trying to stay connected in strange circumstances, is not the most enthralling subject matter either. I stayed with it anyway, so I could lend my "Vine Voice" to the pre-release for this review, but it didn't get very interesting until about the end of Part Two - which is about 2/3 of the way through. The ending was a little odd too, it just kind of stopped... the main protagonist, Margaret, seemed to resolve a couple of issues within herself, but it left some loose ends.

As of this writing, the other reviews are 5 stars, so I am in the minority with my so-so review. Let me say however, that many will enjoy this. She can write well about relationships, and that is what this is really about, not the climbing of Mt. Kenya, or even Africa and her culture. Her description of Africa does show us the various facets of the country, not just the unattractive sides, but the beauty of it as well (I still have no desire to visit there, however). The second half is better than the first, but it is not something I will remember for very long, reading as much as I do, whereas with Fortune's Rocks, The Last Time They Met, or Testimony, I don't think I will ever forget.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Library Gal on November 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I haven't read all of Anita Shreve's novels but I've read enough to know she is a very talented writer who sometimes writes terrific stories and at other times, not so terrific ones. A Change in Altitude, IMHO, is in the latter category. I thought the circumstances surrounding the two climbs were highly implausible and the main characters were poorly developed, both factors in the book's lack of appeal to me. (I think the most implausible part of the book is that someone with no mountain climbing experience would be talked into making this trek, not once but twice. Of course, in all fairness, this is coming from someone with such crippling acrophobia that I can't even go out on a balcony.)

I also found, mostly in the beginning chapters but also in some of the latter chapters, a herky-jerky rhythm, with short, declarative sentences and abrupt transitions which I do not recall from Ms. Shreve's other works. Her descriptions of Kenya and the people and the mountain were beautiful, but even they aren't enough to overcome the weak plot, unlikeable characters, and a general lack of cohesiveness throughout the book.
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