In A Change of Climate Hilary Mantel tells the story of siblings. Ralph and Emma Eldred grew up in a dour, oppressive family where their creationist father, Matthew, ruled the roost while their mother acquiesced, receiving each day “a used opinion from him.”
Ralph and his father differ on the question of evolution. This is a conflict that has serious consequences for Ralph’s future.
If the Eldreds are “righteous”, much of what transpires in A Change of Climate involves the destruction of the righteous. This picks up the theme hinted at in the epigraph from Job 4:7 “Consider, what innocent ever perished, or where have the righteous been destroyed?”
While Emma grew up to become a doctor, her freedom of choice was, unknown to her, at Ralph’s expense.
Ralph, meanwhile, opted to escape his over-bearing father by becoming a missionary. Together with his wife Anna, Ralph accepted a posting to South Africa. Subsequently, his posting took him to the fictional Bechuanaland.
At the funeral of Felix Palmer, we learn that Emma has been having an affair. Felix, a real estate agent and family friend, was her lover. This surprises Ralph who is angry to learn that others knew but had not told him. Meanwhile, Ralph’s daughter Kit is involved in a relationship with Felix’s son, Daniel.
Something dark and terrible
A Change of Climate switches back and forth between the years before, during and after Africa. It becomes apparent from early on that something dark and terrible took place in Africa. The suspense builds as we wait to find out what it was.
When Ralph eventually reveals the secret to Amy, it ultimately leads to the marriage breakdown.
When Anna reflects on betrayal, she neatly summarizes as follows.
“It is in the nature of betrayal, she thought, that it not only changes the present, but that it reaches back with its dirty hands and changes the past.”
Mantel writes beautifully. A Change of Climate is an accomplished and interesting novel that would be an excellent choice for book club discussions. Originally published by Viking in 1994, a Kindle edition of A Change of Climate by Hilary Mantel was published by Fourth Estate in 2010. ISBN: 978007354948.