I re-read Wolf Hall recently for my book group. Then I picked up a second-hand copy of A Change of Climate and motored through it. I just can’t get enough of her prose. There’s something essentially Mantel-ish about it, even in two such different books. Clean and spare, but in a deceptively simple way. It twists and winds its way into the gaps between people, the spaces between the words that they say and into the details lurking just under the surface. Such a wonderful ride every time.
In A Change of Climate, Ralph and Anna Eldred live in Norfolk in The Red House, the home that their four children grew up in. Thanks to Ralph’s charitable trust, their ramshackle former farmhouse is frequently populated by a series of miscellaneous characters, “Good Souls” and “Sad Cases”; the two types of people that make up the world, according to eldest daughter Kit.
Ralph and Anna’s children have grown and flown, but they have started to return to The Red House. First Julian, with no more explanation than that ‘he did not like being away’, then Kit, who is searching for direction after her finals.
As the story opens, Felix Palmer – an estate agent and long-time friend of Ralph and Anna – is dead and Ralph finds out that his sister Emma, respected local GP, has been Felix’s mistress for many years. While he is shocked, it becomes clear that Ralph is familiar with keeping secrets. He kept one from Emma about their father. And he and Anna are keeping a very large secret of their own. One that will take them back to the time they spent in sun-bleached Africa, first in Elim, near Johannesburg and then a tiny township called Mosadinyana, in Bechuanaland.
I’ve mentioned already that I powered through this book. It was gripping and the pages turned themselves. But this is no fast food read, it has real meat on its bones. Mantel’s characters are believable, rounded and real. They struggle with things that are universal, even if their secrets are not. I think it’s a story about justice, grief and, most of all, conflict, both internal and external. The conflict between letting children find their path and keeping them safe, following your dreams and honouring those you love, the path you took and the echo of the one you didn’t.
It left me hungry for more Mantel.