Title: A Change in Altitude
Author: Anita Shreve
Release Date: September 22, 2009
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
Margaret and Patrick are American newlyweds living in Kenya in the 1970s. Patrick is a doctor and Margaret is doing her best to use her photography skills, despite the prejudices against women. They make friends with another married couple, Arthur and Diana, who invite them on a climb of Mount Kenya, and Margaret reluctantly agrees.
However, the climb doesn’t go as planned – tragedy strikes, and as a result Margaret and Patrick’s relationship changes irrevocably. While they try to recover from what happened on the mountain, Margaret begins to branch out and explore her own independence, and as a result begins to see the “real” Africa, often hidden from Western eyes.
After last year’s amazing Testimony [review], Anita Shreve returns with another contemporary fiction novel that really makes the reader think. This time, the setting is Africa. With merely her words, Shreve paints a vivid and colorful picture of Kenya. The reader sees the beauty of this country – but also the horror. This is not a sanitized depiction. Shreve doesn’t shy away from the realities of life in Kenya in the 70’s. As a result, this novel is not easy to read at times. It can be difficult and brutal, but Shreve’s beautiful and frank writing helps alleviate the burden on the reader.
The author does an excellent job of exposing the reader to some of the complicated issues that are in Africa, yet there never is too much. Shreve is very aware of her audience; she is cognizant of the fact that that too much ugliness will turn her readers off. Therefore there is a healthy balance of world issues and the personal relationships that Shreve writes so well in A Change in Altitude.
Indeed, though Africa is a major part of this novel, it is relationships that are at its heart. Patrick and Margaret’s marriage is the core of A Change in Altitude. It seems perfect at the beginning – they are in love and on the adventure of a lifetime in Kenya. However, even before the climb, the cracks in their marriage begin to surface. Once tragedy strikes, they begin to drift farther and farther apart – it’s as if something has broken in their marriage. Shreve thrives on depicting the conflict within relationships, and while it isn’t perfectly executed, it’s clear that this is where she really excels.
The problems with A Change in Altitude were with the story. Though it’s very well-written and easy to read, there isn’t a driving force propelling the story forward. Instead, it seems to meander along more often than not. While Margaret is well-written and introspective, the reader never really gets to know Patrick. As a result, the couple working out their problems isn’t enough to keep the reader hooked. Still, the depiction of Kenya and Margaret’s independent journey is enough to keep the reader interested in the novel.
A Change in Altitude isn’t necessarily a great novel, but it is a solid work of fiction that fans of Shreve and contemporary fiction lovers will enjoy. Additionally, if you’re looking for an introductory book on Africa, this is a great place to start.