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A Change of Climate: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

This magnificent volume is powered by questions about faith, unfaithfulness, and how to live unselfishly without destroying yourself or those you love, and it does them unsettling justice. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

Acclaimed British novelist Mantel (An Experiment in Love, 1996, etc.; see below) offers a provocative take on men and women of goodwill side-swiped by unsuspected evil and betrayal in places as far apart as Botswana and England. The story, moving between the past and recent present, is a cautionary, compassionate tale of a model family almost destroyed by its secrets. At the start, Ralph Eldred has just learned that sister Emma, a doctor, has had a longtime affair with the married and recently deceased Felix. Ralph, whose life has been spent helping ``sad cases and good souls,'' is shaken by this ``failure of self-knowledge.'' As a young man, his wealthy and devout father forced him to give up his plans to study geology and to work instead at the inner-city mission. When offered a posting to South Africa, Ralph accepted because it would take him far away from his father. He marries Anna, as principled as he, and they settle into mission life. It's now the early 1960s, apartheid's apogee, and the two routinely confront police brutality and corruption. They become activists, eventually find themselves imprisoned, and then, released from jail, accept a remote posting in Botswana, where Anna gives birth to the twins Kit and Matthew. Later, a malevolent servant stabs Ralph and abducts the twins. Only Kit is found. Back in England, Ralph and Anna have more children but never tell them about the lost baby. Kit, however, now a college graduate, is troubled by dreams of Africa; Anna, still heartsore and angry over losing her child, feels alienated from Ralph; son Julian is adrift, and Ralph himself finds his charity work meaningless. He himself now slips into an affair, discovery of which finally provides a necessary catharsis. Emotions are vented, secrets revealed, and the family's love and faith are found to be stronger than suspected. A subtle exploration in vividly detailed settings of the complex workings of the hearts of well-intentioned people. Intelligent and moving. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (September 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312422881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312422882
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #451,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
When asked, rhetorically, by his sister, "Whatever happened to the dinosaurs?", Ralph, the main character responds, "Their habitat altered...A change of climate." In his rebellion against his parents, their closed, religiously fundamentalist point of view, and his father's financial blackmailing regarding his career choices, Ralph intentionally changes his physical habitat and his climate by escaping to South Africa with his bride.
Working as a lay person at a mission and vigorously opposing apartheid, Ralph and Anna eventually are imprisoned, then banished to Bechuanaland, now Botswana. It is here that the savagery which creates a permanent and terrible climate in their marriage occurs, a savagery not limited to one race as Ralph and Anna had perceived in South Africa.
As the story bounces from the present in England back twenty years to Africa, the reader lives through the vivid and terrible African experiences and simultaneously sees how they have permeated the lives of these good, but often naïve, people. Both Ralph and Anna have rejected the traditional religion of their parents in favor of doing good deeds in their family lives and through a social service trust. But as Ralph's uncle James points out, "There is nothing so appallingly the business of being human."
While the reader cheers as James grows and eventually embraces life, s/he also fears for Anna, who remains emotionally closed, despite her good deeds, fearful that she "should lose everything, one of these days." As the events resolve themselves and the "competition in goodness" comes to an end, we see real humans trying to put aside the petrified past and to change the climate of their lives, and we will, perhaps, evaluate our own lives. Can we accept change, or are we dinosaurs at heart?
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Instinctively, people know that when a pain is too great to be endured, it is appropriate to wait until it can be more rationally confronted. But there is always the danger of pushing the pain so far away that it becomes inaccessible, if never, ever forgotten. "To some people great grief is an indecency...They blame the bereaved."

After a stunning tragedy in Africa, where Ralph and Anna Eldred have gone as missionaries, they return home, cautioning their family never to speak of the horror they have endured. It is relegated to the past, where it will stay. The Eldred's are compliant people, particularly Ralph, a man of good intentions who works for the family charitable trust, providing necessities, such as food, clothing and shelter for those less fortunate. But for their brief years in Africa and the trauma they suffer on the Dark Continent, the Eldred's personify the spirit of missionary life.

Once again residing in England providing for the downtrodden, Anna and Ralph live out a self-effacing routine. As a Christian, Ralph believes in service, so compassionate that he cannot turn away from those in need. Covertly, Ralph is concerned that people will mistake him for a man who loves mankind in general, but not persons in particular. However, this is exactly how he is perceived, soldiering on for over twenty years after the tragedy, burying himself in the trivia of everyday obligations. His endless pursuit of virtue in hopes of atonement can never be realized.

Meanwhile, Anna suffers grievously for Ralph's neglect, enduring a constant ache, her own survival defined by the ever-present needs of her four children. Anna has paid a terrible price for her silence all these years.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By disheveledprofessor on March 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is the first novel of Hilary Mantel that I've read, and I'm eager to read more. Her style is her strength: she is a keen observer of human character, human fraility, human environments, and she describes the environment, emotions and atmospheres with a crystal clarity. For example, her paragraph about the end of a semester caused me to relive those times: "only dogged by that usual feeling of anticlimax the end of exams brings. After this, you think, after my papers are over, I will do, and I will do ... and then you don't. You are a shell, enclosing outworn effort. You expect a sense of freedom, and yet you feel trapped in the same old body, the same drab routines; you expect exhilaration, and you only feel a kind of habitual dullness, a letdown, a perverse longing for the days when you read and made notes and sat up all night."
Mantel's characters are muddlers. They muddle through life with good intentions, but feel displaced and unsatisfied. Yet you care for them, and say to yourself, "I know these people!" There are many robust characters [Ralph and Anna, missionaries in Africa; their children, searching for their place in the world; Ralph's sister Emma] and threads interwoven through the basic story. The main characters are Ralph and Anna, missionaries who go to Africa to "do good". Evil events there haunt their lives when they return to England.
The novel is written as an "entertaining read", in a page-turning style -- you are interested in the characters and events. Yet it is a substantial work, addressing important themes: good versus evil, do our choices make a difference, the cost of cultural misunderrstandings, the loss of faith, how any sense of security is an illusion. While entertaining, Mantel is not afraid of the artist's obligation to tell us unpalatable truths about ourselves.
My one complaint is that the ending was too predictable; I felt that the novel was "wrapped up", rather than allowed to find its own ending.
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