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.

Borrowed Books

The mobile library came last week. I wasn’t going to borrow many, if any books, but there were some on the shelves that looked interesting and the van isn’t coming again until 21 October so I thought, why not borrow them. Then we went to our granddaughter’s 10th birthday party on Saturday and our son lent me a book too. It’s the top one in the pile shown below. Finally we went into town yesterday and as I returned a book to the library there I had a quick look round and borrowed the book at the bottom of the pile.

From top to bottom they are:

  • The Tent, the Bucket and Me: My Family’s Disastrous Attempts to go Camping in the 70s by Emma Kennedy. Apparently (I say this because I haven’t got that far in the book) they go to Carnac where we also went camping (well in a caravan) in the 80s. I checked on Amazon and this book has widely different reviews – some love it and think it very funny and others think it’s dreadful and not at all funny. I wonder which ‘camp’ I’ll be in.
  • Borrower of the Night: a Vicky Bliss Murder Mystery by Elizabeth Peters. I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Peters, but as I’ve seen some reviews on a few blogs, I thought I’d have a look at this one. I haven’t started it yet. Vicky Bliss is an art historian, beautiful and brainy, according to the back cover. This one is about a search for a missing masterwork in wood by a master carver who died in Germany in the 16th century.
  • The Fall by Simon Mawer. I’ve read one other by by Simon Mawer – The Gospel of Judas, which I’d enjoyed. The Fall is the story of Rob and Jamie, friends from childhood, with a passion for mountaineering and climbing. From just a quick look at it, I see that it begins in Snowdon (another place where went on holiday and have camped and climbed (well D climbed, I just walked). Jamie and Rob take on greater challenges, culminating in the Eiger’s North Face. The jacket description appealed to me: ‘a story that captures nature at its most beautiful and most brutal, and which unlocks the intricacies at the heart of human relationships.’
  • A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve. I’ve not been too keen on the latest books by Anita Shreve, although I loved her earlier ones, so I thought I’d borrow this one rather than buy it. I have started to read it, but just a few pages in it hasn’t ‘grabbed’ me yet. It’s about two couples on a climbing expedition to Mount Kenya when a horrific accident occurs.
  • Sepulchre by Kate Mosse. I read Labyrinth a few years ago (before I began this blog) and at the time I noted that it was ‘OK but too long’. So this is another book I decided not to buy, but if I saw it in the library I’d borrow it. It is enormously long! So far I’ve read a few chapters, set in 1891 in Paris and I’m not sure whether I’ll ever finish it. It’s a time-split book, divided 1891 and 2007, ‘the story of a tragic love, a missing girl, a unique set of tarot cards and the strange events of a cataclysmic night.’ (from the back cover)
  • The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd. I’ve always enjoyed Peter Ackroyd’s books and this one looked like a candidate for the RIP Challenge (as does Sepulchre). So far I’ve read about Victor Frankenstein’s love of learning and his desire to know the secrets of nature and the source of life. He has met Shelley at Oxford University, attended lessons at the dissecting room of St Thomas’s Hospital in London and is fascinated by Humphrey Davy’s experiments with electrical experiments. So far, so good. This book also has very mixed reviews on Amazon and in the press – the Guardian, ‘disappointing‘ and the Telegraph, ‘a brilliant jeu d’esprit.’

The links are to Amazon.co.uk (except for the press reviews). The only book to get consistent reviews on Amazon is The Fall. I don’t take much notice of these reviews, unless I know the reviewer, but I find it interesting to read such varying responses.