A Change In Altitude by Anita Shreve
Little, Brown & Company/2009
Reviewer: Sheri de Grom
Anita Shreve’s A Change In Altitude, is an engrossing and complex work of fiction. Expatriates living in Kenya are brought together for a mountain-climbing expedition to Mount Kenya. Margaret, an American newlywed and photographer, is introduced as detached from others, slightly paranoid (with good cause), and anxious. Her naiveté and idealism lead her into several serious situations.
The riveting turning point of the novel, involves the horrendous death of a woman Margaret criticizes and pushes away. Ms. Shreve sets her apart from the outset, both physically and emotionally, from her husband and those nearest to her.
This is a novel of contrasts: black and white, icy mountains and glorious meadows, fierce wildlife and domesticated animals, impoverished and wealthy, male and female, crime vs. indulgent living. It is rich with symbolism, factual African knowledge and customs. Turmoil exists within and around the characters that come briefly and go, as expats often do. They stay long enough to challenge your grasp on their characters. The African servants, meanwhile, are steadfast and loyal.
Ms. Shreve excels at painting the beautiful scenery of the region as well as she demonstrates its extraordinary poverty. She serves us unrequited love, the difficulty of marriage, and the nuances of long-time friendships and short-term acquaintances that become quickly bonded as expats. Margaret’s husband Patrick, a physician researching tropical diseases, is aloof and deep while presenting a fare-thee-well boyish charm. Ms. Shreve never fails to delight and surprise her readers. The ending comes too quickly with a second expedition to Mount Kenya that sums up Margaret’s personality, matures her, and perhaps, defines her marriage to Patrick.
My favorite of the fifteen Anita Shreeve novels I’ve read to date are: The Weight of Water, Sea Glass, Light on Snow and A Wedding In September. I recommend A Change In Altitude.