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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Change of Climate

Hilary Mantel

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To purchase A Change of Climate

Title: A Change of Climate
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1994
Length: 321 pages
Availability: A Change of Climate - US
A Change of Climate - UK
A Change of Climate - Canada
Changement de climat - France
Regen über der Wüste - Deutschland

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Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful, well-presented novel of Africa and England

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 14/9/1997 Charlotte Innes
New Statesman & Society B- 18/3/1994 Janet Barron
The New Yorker . 17/11/1997 .
The NY Times Book Rev. A 20/7/1997 Francine Prose
San Francisco Chronicle . 27/7/1997 Rebecca Radner
The Spectator A 19/11/1994 Caroline Moore
Wall St. Journal . 24/9/1997 Merle Rubin

  Review Consensus:

  Most very impressed, but not quite a consensus. Good writing, and most thought she made her points very well.

  From the Reviews:
  • "Mantel also suggests we have choices. In a double-edged crisis (...) there is the hint of possible healing in their lives: of real goodness, not just the numbed "professional Christian" sort by which they had been living, but genuine tenderness based on real feeling. Only in revelation (and that includes self-examination), Mantel suggests, can the rot of secrecy and self-deception be rooted out and a more honest life begin." - Charlotte Innes, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(W)here the novel disappoints is in its predictability. Once the stories are set in motion, the conclusions seem inevitable, and are indeed signposted throughout. (...) (T)he powerful writing here has been undermined." - Janet Barron, New Statesman & Society

  • "Some readers may find themselves re-examining their own ideas about the artist's right or obligation to render politically uncomfortable truths. Others may elect not to consider any of this at all, and simply to enjoy Hilary Mantel's smart, astringent and marvelously upsetting fiction." - Francine Prose, The New York Times Book Review

  • "While the suspense builds as we wait to find out what happened in Africa, the book offers an extremely complex inquiry into the nature of good and evil." - Rebecca Radner, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "(A)nother excellent novel by Hilary Mantel, subtle as well as shocking." - Caroline Moore, The Spectator

  • "To these well-meaning people, accustomed to dividing the world into "Sad Cases" and "Good Souls," the experience of evil is devastating, with consequences that reverberate for decades." - Merle Rubin, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Change of Climate moves back and forth between Ralph and Anna Eldred's life in contemporary England, and their experiences as missionaries in southern Africa at the beginning of their marriage, decades earlier. Opening in the present (after a short preliminary scene), Ralph learns at the funeral of a friend that his sister, Emma, had been having an affair with the deceased (and married) man. Ralph was, for the longest time, unaware of this fact (which everyone else seemed to know about). Such secrets, betrayals, and ignorance (willful or otherwise) underlie much of the book.
       Ralph and Anna are good people, trying to do good. They go to Africa as missionaries, though tellingly they are not religious missionaries. It is not God's work they want to do, it is just good work. Decades later, in Norwalk where they live, Ralph is still doing his good work, tending to people, inviting strays to the family home. The "Good Souls" and "Sad Cases" -- the faces may change but the essence remains the same -- are a fixture in the home.
       Ralph and Anna have a number of children -- a surprisingly decent lot (Mantel tends to write childhood bleakly and darkly). The family muddles along, but clearly something is hanging in the air. Something happened in Africa, a place and time Ralph and Anna hardly ever speak of.
       The scenes in southern Africa show a young, eager couple adapting to the difficulties of doing good in a place where injustice is a way of life. Posted to South Africa, the Eldreds do their best in conditions where there are not enough hours in a day and where anything they do is only a small lessening of the outrages perpetrated against the black population. Inevitably, they get drawn into the politics of the situation and eventually they are arrested and jailed.
       Mantel does the obscenity that was South Africa particularly well, showing the day to day life, the various struggles, but also showing great understanding for the complexities of the situation. The proponents and officers of the system are not sympathetic, but Mantel does not simply tar them. Similarly, the black population is not one just of victims; evil lurks there as well. The situation is a complex one, and Mantel does a good job of suggesting the complexity.
       The South African authorities want to rid themselves of the Eldreds, who do not want to leave Africa yet. A compromise of sorts is reached: the Eldreds are posted to a place in the middle of nowhere, in Bechuanaland (now Botswana). It is there that the most horrifying episode takes place. Mantel hints at it before, but it is still a shock when it comes. A defining moment, the novel is about the Eldreds finally coming to terms with this event.
       There are many other strands to the novel, and a number of strong characters. Ralph's sister, a doctor, is a different kind of do-gooder, never married (though she did carry on that affair for the longest time). The Eldreds' children lose focus regarding their studies, and the parents are unable to offer much useful guidance or pressure.
       Son Julian comes across Sandra Glasse, a girl who lives with her mother. They get by any way they can, selling things at market or along the roadside -- farm products to baskets to doormats, depending on the season. As down to earth as one can imagine, they are in fact a bit too good to be true -- but they also serve a useful role in the novel.
       Ralph eventually finds himself attracted to Mrs. Glasse, and his betrayal of his wife finally brings everything to a head.

       A varied, big novel, Mantel manages to present a great deal here. Well-written, as always, Mantel shows a complex world and the devastation of evil (and of not facing up to it). Recommended.

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A Change of Climate Reviews: Hilary Mantel: Other books by Hilary Mantel under Review: Other books under review that may be of interest:

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About the Author:

       English author Hilary Mantel was born in 1952. Author of several highly praised novels, she won the Hawthornden Prize in 1996.

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