A Change in Altitude, By Anita Shreve
Sunday 16 May 2010
In this, Anita Shreve's 15th novel, American newlyweds Margaret and Patrick have just arrived in Africa. He works in a hospital in Nairobi; she eventually gets a job as a photographer for a newspaper.
Margaret falls in love with Africa, but is uneasily conscious of the conflicts beneath the surface of the society. On a climbing expedition up Mount Kenya with some horrible English friends of Patrick's, a fatal accident occurs (tersely, brilliantly described so that one sees it happening).
That is Part One. Part Two explores the fallout from the accident, as Margaret's marriage comes under strain as a result. It's fair to say that the second part lacks some of the tension of the first, even though there is plenty going on – possibly too much – and at the end there are a few loose ends still needing to be gathered up.
But maybe that is the point: life does tend to leave loose ends. Shreve's prose style is cool and detached: she evokes the sights and sounds and smells and heat of Africa vividly, and her anatomising of a marriage in trouble is acute. This doesn't quite have the emotional warmth of an Anne Tyler novel, but it occupies the same sort of territory.
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