I want to start by saying I am a huge fan of Anita Shreve. The first book I read by her was Seaglass, and I couldn’t put it down. I love her style and her interweaving of stories. With that in mind, I’m not going to recommend A Change in Altitude to anyone, and will therefore be spoiling the entire book since I don’t think you should read it (so, if you are interested, you might want to come back to this later).
I was very interested in reading this book due to my own summer spent living in Kenya, but in the end was disappointed with the plot and character development.
The premise of the book is that an American couple, Margaret and Patrick, are spending a year in Kenya while Patrick does some sort of medical research. They are newlyweds–who sound like they didn’t get to know each other very well before they got married. In the course of their time in Kenya, they go on a hiking expedition to Mount Kenya with “friends.” One of their friends dies on the hike and Margaret blames herself for the death. What follows is a year of blaming herself.
First off, I was very confused by the time period. Was this supposed to be set in a modern day Kenya? Because even Margaret and Patrick didn’t feel like modern-day Americans. There was something off about them and the way they acted. They kind of felt like older, entitled Americans living overseas who feel things should be done their way. Newsflash, when you are living in a different culture, yes, you should practice your own culture and practices in your own home, but in public you need to assimilate to the culture and not be so entitled. One of my biggest pet peeves is Americans who think their way of life is the best and try to force it on others. That’s why God made us all so different and gave us different languages–He didn’t want us to be cookie-cutters!
(EDIT: I read somewhere it’s supposed to be the mid-70’s. Did I miss something because I didn’t find that anywhere.)
Second, the “situation” that was the basis of the rest of the book seemed far-fetched. So Margaret, even though it has been strongly implied that she feels uneasy around Arthur, lets him hold her hand in the middle of the night while in a common sleeping area on the hike when a rat runs over it. Instead of taking a quick squeeze of reassurance and putting her hand back in the sleeping bag to stay warm, they fall asleep holding hands and both Margaret’s husband and Arthur’s wife, Diana, see them that way in the morning.
Diana freaks out, since earlier in the book Arthur had always been SUPER CREEPY and wouldn’t look away when Margaret had to undress while being attacked by fire ants, and everyone could see he had a thing for her. So Diana goes crazy, and on the most dangerous part of their hike decides to unlatch herself from the guide rope, try to continue on her own, and slides down the glacier to her death.
After the rest of the group makes it to safety, the entire group blames Margaret for Diana’s death. 1) Diana’s husband was a creep, why didn’t they blame him? and 2) Diana was suffering from mountain sickness and was already a terrible human being. It was kind of a relief not to hear about her anymore (yes, I know that’s cruel, but she’s fake, so…).
Third, I simply did not like Margaret at all. She wasn’t a character I could in any way relate to or connect with. I found her to be irritating, flighty, and naive. And I know some of that was on purpose, but the way she flitted around between the men in the book. It was completely unbelievable. Her marriage seemed rushed and they didn’t seem to know each other very well. Then, even though she’s creeped out by him, she and Authur get cozy. THEN when she and her husband are going through a rough patch after the accident, she SUDDENLY FALLS IN LOVE with this Rafiq dude acting like he made such an impression on her that she’ll never be the same. Honestly, I just disliked her.
Then she and Patrick try to fix things and decide to bring up yet another random couple that suddenly comes into their lives with them to climb the mountain. Patrick is a jerk and I’m glad it seems their marriage is over, but honestly I don’t care since I don’t like the lot of them.
Finally, the ending sucked. It seemed like Margaret and Patrick were really trying to work things out and for a moment I was happy for them. Then, when they are back on the glacier and Margaret has a bit of a panic attack, he FREAKS OUT at her instead of realizing that she needed some time. It was not satisfying in any way, I didn’t feel any sort of resolution, and honestly it seemed like Margaret will be more messed up than every before.
Overall, not a book I would recommend. 🙂