A book about betrayal, A Change of Climate lets us into the lives of the Eldred family – Ralph, Anna and their children, and Ralph’s sister Emma. Brought up by deeply religious and incredibly rigid and intolerant parents, young Ralph was blackmailed into a life he didn’t want by his father’s threats to his sister’s dreams. Living a life of dutiful charity, sent first as missionaries to South Africa under apartheid and now back in rural Norfolk, what little the Eldreds have has always been shared with whatever ‘visitors’, thought of by the family as Sad Cases and Good Souls, have been sent their way by the charitable trust Ralph heads. But their life is one in which many things go unsaid, and the cracks are finally starting to show.
Opening with the funeral of Emma’s married lover, it soon becomes apparent to Ralph that Emma’s ‘secret’ wasn’t much of a secret at all – known by absolutely everyone but just never really spoken about or acknowledged. Much like the tragedy that befalls Ralph’s family in Africa, never talked of and so never allowed to heal. It takes another betrayal made public for the Eldreds to face the truth of their lives, but will their marriage survive?
A Change of Climate was a quiet little book which felt, on the face of it, as though nothing much had happened while actually there’d been quite a lot. Writing about very self-contained, stoic people could be boring but never was, with Mantel excelling at repressed people.
While I didn’t enjoy this anywhere near as much as her others (although to be fair I’ve only read those of her Cromwell trilogy that have been published so far), I enjoyed it enough to know that I’ll happily pick up another non-Cromwell Mantel the next time I come across one.