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A Change of Climate

By Drharrietd @drharrietd

I am, in general, not a particularly patient person, and this means I tend to look for instant, or at least rapid, results in most things I undertake. So when I start reading a book, if it doesn't grab me fairly quickly, I generally give up on it. Quite why I persevered with this one is a bit of a mystery, though the fact that it was by Hilary Mantel obviously had something to do with it. In fact I was listening to it as an audiobook, and for a long time I was just not getting it. I couldn't relate to the characters and their situation, and found it all a bit mystifying. But I kept on, and then I finally got it. 

This is the story of Anna and Ralph Eldred who, in the present time of the novel, live in a large house in Norfolk with their four children. Ralph is involved with a charitable project which means that the family is committed to welcoming "sad cases" from London's East End, and attempting to make their lives a little better, frequently with little or no success. But twenty years ago, when they were first married, Ralph and Anna went to Africa as missionaries, and we gradually learn that something very terrible happened to them there, something that has affected their whole lives. And, though the exact nature of this is not revealed until relatively far into the novel, we see its effect on Anna and Ralph, and also on their children Kit, Julian, Robin and Becky.

This is a powerful novel about serious things. It's about morality, about the nature of good and evil, about relationships and about forgiveness. Few people in it are wholly good or wholly bad, though some come pretty close to both ends of the spectrum. The most difficult character for me was Anna, largely I think because of her inability to understand the meaning of forgiveness, though this is obviously the result of the shock and grief associated with her experiences in Africa. But it has left her hard and cold, and though she loves her children as best she can, I think they suffer in their different ways from how she is. It's interesting that it's her daughter Kit who finally manages to explain to her why forgiveness in the end has to be practised for one's own sake if nothing else. The very last part of the novel, in which Ralph has reluctantly conceded to Anna's insistance that they must part, is agonising, because it is clear that both hopes the other may change their mind but neither is able to articulate that wish. The ending, however, though sometimes said to be inconclusive, seemed like the very opposite to me -- an opportunity to mend bridges and heal wounds.

A Change of Climate was first published in 1997, many years before Mantel's spectacular double Booker success. It is beautifully written, sensitively observed, immensely thought provoking. I'm so very glad I persevered with it.

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