Friday, December 4, 2009

book review: A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve

Somehow, I've never read Anita Shreve. I always had a positive opinion of her, as I think she's one of the more literary female authors who manages to appear in the mainstream enough to be on bestseller lists. Although I've read middling reviews of her latest novel, A Change in Altitude, the subject matter appealed to me, so I decided to read it.

The story takes place in Kenya in the 1970's. It's largely the story of Margaret and Patrick, a recently married couple from the U.S. Patrick's job takes him to Africa, and Margaret is thrilled to go with him. As someone about to get married, I'm fascinated by novels about new marriage (and weddings) right now. I'm also a fan of stories about ex-patriots.

I was immediately struck by the beauty and grace of Shreve's writing. It's almost lyrical, and the prose flows so beautifully that the novel reads remarkably quickly given the amount of subtlety to the action and language. Although the novel is a first-person narrative, I can't say I identified with Margaret, the protagonist. I found her interesting, but I did feel a sense of distance. I don't know if that was Shreve's intention, but if so, it's an interesting correlation to Margaret and Patrick's increasing distance from one another. I do think it's reflective of Margaret's feelings about Kenya. She wants to like it, but it's a brutal, often cruel place, despite the presence of many kind people. She feels distant from her new surroundings and her old life in Boston.

This novel is unusual. It's partially a character study of Margaret and Patrick, and partially a look at a young marriage in a strange land. The truly unusual part for me, however, is describing the amount of action and drama despite the relatively slow pace of the book. I can see why some did not like this novel, but for me, it worked. Perhaps much of that was how much I loved Shreve's writing. Her writing is new to me, so for those who have raved over her previous novels, perhaps that was enough. I was fascinated by the tales of Africa, marriage and friendship as well. This novel is filled with interesting themes, but it deals with them subtly. There's not necessarily a character to root for, but yet I did.

I would recommend this book; I found the writing beautiful and the story riveting. If you are a fan of ex-patriot tales in Africa, I also highly recommend a book I adored before I started this blog: Making It Up As I Go Along by Maria T. Lennon. The books share a setting of Africa, and they're not terribly similar on the surface, but their is a depth to the character, writing and geography of both that connects them together.

Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Pages: 307
Publication: September 22, 2009
Source: my local public library

Buy A Change in Altitude from
Buy Making It Up As I Go Along: A Novel from
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1 comment:

  1. I'm glad u enjoyed this Shreve book. I've read all of her books, and this one I did not really care for.


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