Review: A Change of Climate, by Hilary Mantel

Ralph and Anna Eldred began their married life as missionaries in 1950s South Africa, and returned to England in the 1970s, where Ralph manages a charitable trust.  In addition to their four children, Ralph & Anna also give shelter for disadvantaged youth who are sent from London to the country for rehabilitation.  The book opens in the 1980s, and moves seamlessly backwards and forwards in time, gradually filling in the details of Ralph and Anna’s life together, and the lives of other significant figures, like their children and Ralph’s unmarried sister Emma.

For the first third of this book, I thought it was a fairly typical story of missionaries, and their adjustment to life “back home.”  But I was wrong — A Change of Climate is a beautiful story of marriage, the lasting impact of tragedy and suffering, and the power of forgiveness and healing.  There were several moments in this book that hit like a ton of bricks:  Emma’s loneliness after her lover’s death, which goes unacknowledged by almost everyone; the reason Ralph chose his profession which, in turn, influenced Emma’s decision to become a doctor; the secret Ralph and Anna harbored for twenty years, and how it influenced absolutely everything they did, every day. There were also a myriad of moral issues, all laid before the reader in a way that allows us to form our own opinions.

While the plot and the moral dilemmas were captivating, I was also impressed with Mantel’s use of characters.  Emma, in particular, stands in the middle of the “action,” usually as a stabilizing force that holds the family together through its darkest moments.  Hilary Mantel has gained recognition in recent years through her historical novels.  This is a much earlier work that embodies a similar quiet style: not a lot of action, and most of it happens in people’s heads.  But it was, for me, a book with even greater emotional impact.

18 thoughts on “Review: A Change of Climate, by Hilary Mantel

  1. This sounds lovely. I’ve only read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies by Mantel. For some reason I haven’t explored her other works. This is going on my list 🙂

  2. You mean Richard Cromwell doesn’t turn up in this one?! ha. When was this one written? It sounds quite different than what she is doing now ….

    • swright, this book was published in the 1990s. I’ve heard each of Mantel’s books is quite different. Having read this one, the two Cromwell books, and Beyond Black, I can say that’s true!

  3. I read Wolf Hall, and loved it, and I listened to Beyond Black when it was a Woman’s Hour Drama a couple of years ago, and I keep thinking I should read her earlier work, but don’t quite now where to start!

    • Christine, I didn’t care much for Beyond Black although I could see where it would be a good radio drama. This book, however, was MUCH better!

  4. We read this for our book club last year, I agree it’s a wonderful book, quite different to Wolf Hall – but then Hilary Mantel seems to have the knack of producing something different each time.

  5. I like the sound of this one, very different from her historical novels, I have wondered what her other novels would be like, seems like they would be worth investigating.

  6. Oh boy, here’s another book that sounds like it needs to be on my reading list. At this rate I’ll just have to give up working if only to read all that’s on the pile!

  7. I am currently reading this book. I am in awe. What an amazing writer. I want to buy Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies but what I am trying to do is read up on her earliest novels first. I have read Fludd. Loved it. I am so in love with her writing. She’s extraordinarily talented.

    • siyamthanda, I couldn’t agree with you more! I started with Wolf Hall but having enjoyed it so much, I wanted to read some of her earlier novels. She’s a very interesting writer, each of her books are quite different.

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