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A Change of Climate: A Novel Paperback – September 1, 2003
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In Twenty Years: A Novel
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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 hard...as 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?
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Sorry to say, that this was not one of Ms Mantel's better efforts.
Her writing is always graceful and a joy to read - but I was unconvinced by the plot twists and did not... Read more
A riveting story of love, faith, and the search for meaning. I found it haunting, hanging around long after I was finished.Published 2 months ago by Pat Lynne
After reading two of her other books, I was at first a little disappointed but continued on and was increasingly intrigued and mesmerized by the beautiful writing and story.Published 4 months ago by Elaine Elliott
Another entry into the seemingly endless books about dark secrets in the past that threaten to destroy families. Read morePublished 8 months ago by CBx
I’m a massive fan of Hilary Mantel’s work and am assiduously working my way through everything she’s published - so far I haven’t been disappointed. Read morePublished 9 months ago by AlisonW
Gripping story, very well written, interesting plot lines and character development and description.Published 9 months ago by Patguir
Beautifully written, well-plotted, main characters well developed, evocative, poignant, tragicPublished 11 months ago by Jill kent
Interesting portrayal of restricted life in a Muslim country as seen through the eyes of a European woman. A mystery unfolds gradually. Read morePublished 12 months ago by Avid Reader