A Change in Altitude

I wasn’t sure when I was reading A Change in Altitude which time period it is set in and discovered from Anita Shreve’s website that it is set in the late 1970s, which surprised me because I’d thought it was possibly the 1950s. This is the story of Margaret and Patrick, a young American couple who have recently arrived in Kenya. At the start of the novel they have just arrived. They are living in a small house in the grounds of their new friends, Diana and Arthur because the plumbing has failed in their own house. Diana is a native white Kenyan and Arthur is British.

Seen through Margaret’s eyes, Kenya is a place of appalling poverty, discrimination and heat. She and Patrick  feel obliged to the other couple and agree to go on a climbing expedition up Mount Kenya, despite their inexperience. I felt very much for Margaret as she struggled to keep up with the others as they ascended the mountain. They were led by guides, roped together, crossing scree and then a glacier, when the inevitable accident happened and Margaret is overcome by feelings of guilt.

From that point on I began to lose interest in this book. I don’t know whether it’s my taste in reading that has changed but this book, fell short of Anita Shreve’s earlier books, which I enjoyed so much. Maybe I should re-read one and see if it’s me or her writing that has changed. Despite the drama of the accident there was no sense of suspense or tension. I liked the account of the change in attitude that was stirring in Kenya as the inequalities in living conditions and culture are highlighted, but as for the change in altitude I just didn’t understand the symbolism. At times the writing is disjointed and the characterisation unconvincing. It’s basically a story about marriage and love and how events and their aftermath affect our lives. All in all, although it promised to be good, it was rather disappointing.

6 thoughts on “A Change in Altitude”

  1. Margaret – So sorry to hear you were disappointed in this one. I know just what you mean, too, about books that lack tension and well-developed characters. I’ve had that happen, too, and it is a disappointment, especially from an author one’s liked before.

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  2. Margaret, I’ve always thought of Anita Shreve as an acquired taste, sort of like Doris Lessing. I stopped reading her books because I found them depressing, and not worth the effort to read because I have enough depressing things going on in my life without adding more. The characters struck me as people who let others rule their lives and I wanted to say, “Where’s your spine? Stand up for yourself, for Pete’s sake.” However, since you enjoyed her work before, I’ll bet it’s her writing that’s changed – maybe this just wasn’t the story for her.

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  3. Shreve has written such a lot of books now and I wonder if she’s suffering from over exposure and has simply run out of steam. It does happen with authors. I liked The Pilot’s Wife a lot but a couple of others I’ve read more recently have not enaged me in the same way.

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    1. Cath, I agree. It was almost as though someone else had written this book. I loved The Pilot’s Wife, Fortunes Rocks, The Last time We Met and some of the others as well.

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  4. Sorry you didn’t enjoy this. I’ve only read Testimony by Shreve and am anxious to try others by her. I’ve had my eye on this one and seen mixed reviews. Wonder if I’ll like it any better having not read any of the previous great earlier works?

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