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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is the ending really depressing/ inconclusive? I disagree.
I think this novel is about the omnipresence of cruelty in human relationships, how it is engendered, and how we deal with its consequences. The story pivots on an act of hideous and deliberate cruelty towards a child, which eats like acid into the parent's relationship for years afterwards. But there is also more familiar, sometimes unintentional, cruelty in this book:...
Published on 2 Mar 2012 by Bookhead

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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Motivated people
In A Change Of Climate Hilary Mantel presents what is essentially a family saga, but in settings that add extra dimensions to the expected dilemmas. The family in question is the Eldreds. Ralph and Anna have shared an unusual if not an altogether unconventional married life. They have spent time in Africa as missionaries. They have devoted their time to helping others...
Published on 10 Dec 2012 by Philip Spires


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is the ending really depressing/ inconclusive? I disagree., 2 Mar 2012
By 
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
I think this novel is about the omnipresence of cruelty in human relationships, how it is engendered, and how we deal with its consequences. The story pivots on an act of hideous and deliberate cruelty towards a child, which eats like acid into the parent's relationship for years afterwards. But there is also more familiar, sometimes unintentional, cruelty in this book: Ralph is emotionally blackmailed mercilessly by his father Matthew into abandoning his cherished vocation, and Matthew also bullies and terrifies his own wife throughout their marriage. Emma and Felix are casually, unintentionally cruel to Ginny, Felix's wife, for decades. Ralph, who spends his life in charitable works, thoughtlessly exploits Amy Glasse when he is desperate for comfort, and breaks her heart.

People are shown to shy away from the damage cruelty causes to its victims, who endure their wounds mostly in silence. The response of religion, and the welfare state, is non-judgmental and non-emotional, a relentless and demanding support for those in recognised categories of need. "Good souls" help "sad cases". The difficulties and inadequacies of this approach are explored throughout the novel, climaxing in the arrival of the damaged Melanie. She is a child who was sent away for temporary fostering, only to find when she returned home that her personal possessions and clothes had been got rid of and her room used for other purposes - she had been excised from the family by her parents as if she had never existed. Ravaged by drugs, solvent abuse and suicide attempts, she is cared for by Ralph, Anna and Kit with their well-practised professional kindness, although they become increasingly and irritably aware of the futility of such an approach.

Many readers have been baffled or even annoyed by the apparent inconclusiveness of the ending, or have found it depressing. Does the Eldred family break up? Do Ralph and Anna divorce? Surely the clue to future events lies in the account of the dramatic finding of Melanie at the end of the book. They recognise her crawling desperately towards them in her hospital gown, having managed to escape. Anna and Ralph move towards her - significantly, together. Then there is an extraordinary description of Melanie's behaviour:

"As they approached the child, she stopped trying to crawl. She shrank into herself, her head shrank between her shoulder-blades like some dying animal. But then, as they reached out towards her, Melanie began to breathe - painfully, slowly, deeply, sucking in the air - as if breathing were something she were learning, as if she had taken a class in it, and been taught how to get it right."

This recalls the harrowing description of when the lost infant Kit has been found by the distraught Anna, apparently dead in a Botswana ditch:

"They saw her approach...One child in her arms, but only one...blood-caked, rigid, frozen...But then the child began to utter: not to cry, but to make a jarring, convulsive, sucking sound, louder and louder with each breath, as if her tiny ribcage were an uncoiling spring."

In each case the extraordinary breathing is a bid for life, a plea for life, an acceptance of life. And life not only for the child, but for Anna and Ralph. The first time, they are too damaged to grasp it. They nurse their loss, and do not see what they have saved. Amy Glasse says so wisely and magnificently to Ralph in the scene where he abandons her: "You lost a child. And every day you think about it. But think of the children you didn't lose." Perhaps just as their terrible loss drove them apart, so will the offering of love to the lost child Melanie heal the wound. There are details in the last section of the book that indicate Melanie loses her hostility to the Eldred family, and makes real contact with Anna; that Anna's perception of Melanie changes from her being a "sad case" to being a real child. And that Ralph has at last accepted the forced loss of his vocation as a geologist, and will now put his heart as well as his moral principles into his charity work. (Thoughtfully, he throws his prize childhood fossil away.)

There is yet a third memorable passage which focuses on extreme behaviour, especially the desperate quality of the breathing. It happens when Anna is at her lowest ebb and breaks down before a horrified Kit - who has just confirmed unwittingly that Ralph is being unfaithful.

" Anna...covered her mouth with her hand, and a little, bitter bleat came from her; laughter? Kit tried to pull her hand from her mouth, to claw it away, as if her mother were a baby that had eaten something it shouldn't...On and on it went, the little noise: the heave of the narrow ribs, the out-breath like a moan, the breath sucked in as if air were poison...for a moment she was frozen...Then she let out her breath...with a muffled scream heaved up from her stomach. she sucked in the air. "I knew I should lose everything," she said. "

Does this indicate that Anna has reached a point where her only hope is to seize life, and that she will if given the chance? It is repeatedly clear that, no matter what they say, neither Ralph nor Anna really wants to end their partnership - each waits for a signal from the other. And then they see Melanie come crawling desperately towards them....
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Tale of Two Worlds, 12 Sep 2011
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
I first read this book after my first trip to Norfolk for a holiday, back in 1994. I've re-read it several times, both for its wonderful characters and for Mantel's superb evocations of the bleak but beautiful countryside of North Norfolk and of Southern Africa. As another reviewer has pointed out, this could be a grimly depressing tale, but Mantel's writing is so skilled that she manages to do what the great tragedians do and make tragedy readable and even enjoyable, and not merely sad. She's also clever in giving one a sense of hope at the end of the story. There are some wonderful characters in this book, from Anna Eldred, who breaks away from her repressive limited parents to follow her husband Ralph to South Africa, makes a new life with him there but is powerless against first apartheid and then the viciousness of a local man who she offends, Emma her unconventional sister-in-law, sleeping with the married local estate agent in Norfolk (her former childhood sweetheart), Kit, Anna and Ralph's daughter and Daniel, the son of Emma's lover, determined that history won't repeat itself, Amy and Sandra, the strange and compelling peasant-like mother and daughter who attract two of the men in the Eldred family, and many more. Mantel has many wise things to say about charity, about the role of religion in society, and about human love. And if Ralph, one of the central characters may appear at times a rather selfish man, Mantel explains perfectly why this may have come about, and invites us to sympathize with him and understand him. A haunting book which will leave you thinking for a long time after completing it.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful family saga evoking a climate of change., 5 Nov 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
When asked, rhetorically, by his sister, "Whatever happened to the dinosaurs?", Ralph, the main character responds, "Their habitat altered...A change of climate." In rebellion against his parents, their closed, religiously fundamentalist point of view, and his father's financial blackmailing regarding his career choices,Ralph intentionally changes his physical habitat and his climate by escaping to South Africa with his bride.
Working as a lay person at a mission and vigorously opposing apartheid, Ralph and Anna, not surprisingly, run afoul of the authorities and are exposed to the savagery which creates a permanent and terrible climate in their marriage. They discover that such savagery is not limited to one race as they had previously supposed. As the story bounces from the present in England back twenty years to Africa, the reader lives through the vivid and terrible African experiences and simultaneously sees how these traumas have permeated the lives of these good, but often naïve, people. As Ralph's uncle James points out, "There is nothing so appallingly hard...as the business of being human."
As James grows and eventually embraces life, Anna remains emotionally closed, despite her good deeds, fearful that she "should lose everything, one of these days." As the events resolve themselves and the "competition in goodness" comes to an end, we see real humans trying to put aside the petrified past and to change the climate of their lives. With immense sympathy Mantel creates imperfect characters who try to lead good lives, with varying degrees of success. Mary Whipple
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lyrical and heartfelt, 19 Feb 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Hardcover)
Hilary Mantel is a brilliant writer. She gets so deep into the lives of her characters and makes an ordinary life seem fascinating and full of mystery. As with 8 months on Ghazza Street there is quite a lot of suspense in this book that builds up nicely as the family secrets are slowly revealed. The ending is sad but very true.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forgetting is an art, like other arts. It needs dedication and practice., 26 Jan 2011
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
The story of Ralph and Anna's marriage is presaged early in this book by Ralph being innocent of the knowledge of his sister Emma's affair with Felix, a man married to Ginny, another Norfolk matron made of similar stoical stuff as Anna herself. Ironic as this is, in the later circumstances, they appear to have such a bond that one feels hope for them, even as their past is being unravelled.

Ralph and Anna are back in England after a stint as missionaries running a South African mission house which does less proselytising than feeding the starving and bandaging up those subject to police attention in apartheid Cape Town. Gradually, the story of what happened in South Africa, after their arrest as subversives, is revealed and the heart-ache at the centre of their marriage exerts its deadening hand on them both.

This novel is beautifully written; her ability to produce impeccable prose of great atmospheric and descriptive power has always been Mantel's chief gift and this book is no exception. The awful recognition of the irony and harm at the centre of this book is brilliantly laid bare and it is a real downer, of course. I felt there was no hope at the end of this story, and that even if Ralph and Anna stayed together, they were locked into the grief of their African experience, forever.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful prose, believable characters, 8 Sep 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Hardcover)
This heart-rending story could have been very depressing and desolate. However, I came out of it, if not uplifted, at least not feeling unhappy. My main quibble was the ending. It wasn't too clear what had happened, and I would have liked to have been certain of the fate of the central married couple. I liked the spare yet fully-rounded style and the strange switches between characters as the focus of the story, while disorientating, were effective. I wished I had started reading her sooner.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Motivated people, 10 Dec 2012
This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
In A Change Of Climate Hilary Mantel presents what is essentially a family saga, but in settings that add extra dimensions to the expected dilemmas. The family in question is the Eldreds. Ralph and Anna have shared an unusual if not an altogether unconventional married life. They have spent time in Africa as missionaries. They have devoted their time to helping others less advantaged than themselves. Ralph runs a charitable trust in Norfolk in the east of England. But they have also found the time and energy to raise children of their own and experience the day-to-day pressures of any family's life. But there has been more, more that has not been voiced.

Volunteer missionary work took them to South Africa, to a township called Elim near Johannesburg. It was during the era of toughening Apartheid, a time when new powers threatened whole communities with eviction and resettlement to "tribal homelands". Ralph and Anna begin to identify with their community and deal with certain people who held particular opinions about the way South African society was being organised. Their activities catch the eye of the local police and, as a consequence of their contact, Ralph and Anna are arrested and imprisoned.

For them there is a way out of jail, and it is a way that is not available, of course, to the others who had been associated with them in Elim, those who have to continue living with the injustice that seems to affect the lives of the Eldreds. Hilary Mantel's novel, however, doggedly follows the Eldreds to Botswana, where the family apparently gives up thinking about those they have left behind. Known then as Bechuanaland, Botswana provides the family with an opportunity, but they are offered a posting that the previous incumbents did not appear to like. By this time Anna has been through a pregnancy and has been blessed with twins. It seems, however, that the mission's previous occupants were correct about the undesirability of the posting. Problems ensue for the Eldreds. What happens to the couple in the latter days of their stay in southern Africa is crucial to the plot of the A Change Of Climate. But there are two or three aspects to these events, not just one relating to a child. Perhaps sometimes overlooked is the fate of the others involved with the tragic events at the end of the family's time in Botswana, a fate that returns to haunt via an almost passing mention towards the end of the book. Guilt, it seems, has many manifestations, mostly ignored.

Back in Britain, the Eldreds devote themselves to assisting those less fortunate than themselves. Thus Melanie appears on the scene. She is young, self-abusing, antisocial and in need. But then all these characters find themselves in need - in need of comfort, reassurance, something that might salve the conscience, replace the loss, turn time around and allow a different path to be taken. Devoted to alleviating the suffering of others, neither Ralph nor Anna can cope with their own traumas. These have to be lived with and relived every day, the guilt they engender colouring most of their lives. Ways out of the impasse of coping are always at hand, however. When Ralph and Anna's son takes up with the daughter of a local single mum who ekes out a living from standing markets and trading junk, an opportunity burns suddenly bright and new suffering and guilt is wrought in the furnace.

In the end, no matter what life throws at us, we all depend on one another and need the succour of others to survive. This remains the case, even when our ideals lead us blandly towards avoidable tragedy and our ensuing suffering impinges on the lives of others.

Hilary Mantel's novel invites us to empathise with the suffering and guilt of Ralph and Anna Eldred. But what the book fails to examine in depth is their motives. Given the consequence of some of their actions, whether intended or not, these could surely have come under greater scrutiny.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling narrative of idealism, betrayal and trauma ., 24 Aug 2013
By 
Dr. Rosemary Cowie (Leeds, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
An international and political horror ensnares a dutiful couple bringing personal, unspeakable trauma and loss. On return to rural England ,this trauma is buried alive under the sediment of everyday life and child rearing. This experience of grief as a social embarrassment is acutely well observed, However the repressed seeps through playing a powerful role in shaping the present. An engrossing story of a family wounded viciously but shot through with hope and renewal and the vitality of a new generation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written, 27 Jun 2014
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This book is a real pleasure to read. The characters feel very real and very human. Hilary Mantel is my favorite author.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing but human, 15 Jun 2014
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This review is from: A Change of Climate (Paperback)
Follows a family between Norfolk and Africa, with insight into family relations and the aftermath of tragedy, coped with in individual ways...wonderful descriptions, convincing individuals, a story with momentum.
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A Change of Climate
A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel (Paperback - 4 Mar 2010)
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