A Change of Climate: A Novel

Front Cover
Macmillan, 2003 - Fiction - 336 pages

Ralph and Anna Eldred are an exemplary couple, devoting themselves to doing good. Thirty years ago as missionaries in Africa, the worst that could happen did. Shattered by their encounter with inexplicable evil, they returned to England, never to speak of it again. But when Ralph falls into an affair, Anna finds no forgiveness in her heart, and thirty years of repressed rage and grief explode, destroying not only a marriage but also their love, their faith, and everything they thought they were.


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User Review  - otterley - LibraryThing

I hope that Hilary Mantel returns to contemporary settings, much as I love her period work. This novel, set amongst the virtuous and socially liberal in the countryside is bracing, challenging, funny ... Read full review


User Review  - Kirkus

Acclaimed British novelist Mantel (An Experiment in Love, 1996, etc.; see below) offers a provocative take on men and women of goodwill side-swiped by unsuspected evil and betrayal in places as far ... Read full review

Selected pages


Section 1
Section 2
Section 3
Section 4
Section 5
Section 6
Section 7
Section 8
Section 25
Section 26
Section 27
Section 28
Section 29
Section 30
Section 31
Section 32

Section 9
Section 10
Section 11
Section 12
Section 13
Section 14
Section 15
Section 16
Section 17
Section 18
Section 19
Section 20
Section 21
Section 22
Section 23
Section 24
Section 33
Section 34
Section 35
Section 36
Section 37
Section 38
Section 39
Section 40
Section 41
Section 42
Section 43
Section 44
Section 45
Section 46

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About the author (2003)

Change of Climate
ONE On the day of Felix Palmer''s funeral, his wife, Ginny, met his mistress, Emma. They had met before, of course. The county of Norfolk is not so populous that they could have avoided each other. Their conduct at these meetings had been shaped by Ginny''s lofty and willful ignorance of the situation: by Emma''s sangfroid: by Felix''s natural desire to maintain an arrangement that suited him. Over the years they had coincided in drafty parish halls, in charity committee rooms, and at the caucuses of local groups concerned with the protection of what, in the decade just beginning, would be known as "the environment." They had bumped into each other in Norwich, shopping in Jarrold''s department store; they had exchanged small talk at exhibitions of craftwork, and occupied neighboring seats at the theater. Once, traveling to London, they had found themselves sole occupants of a first-class carriage. For half an hour they had found enough that was anodyne to pass the time. Then Ginny, excusing herself with a smile, delved into her bag and pulled out a fat paperback book. She retired behind it. Emma examined its cover. A svelte woman, with a small crown perched upon her wimple, stoodbefore a manor house with anachronistic chimney stacks. The title was in florid gold script: Wyfe to Crookback. Emma looked out of the window. The landscape was a sad East England green; crows wheeled over the fields. As they moved from the edge of England to its heart, Emma herself took out a book. They parted at sooty Liverpool Street with a nod and a smile. London forced no collusion on them, but Norfolk did. A handful of farming and professional families played host to both. At a round of weddings and christenings they had made polite, even warm conversation. At a dozen New Year''s Eve parties they had wished each other luck and happiness: and sometimes almost meant it. Now, on this February morning, Ginny stood surrounded by a knot of mourners. Friends and business associates had turned out for the occasion; Felix had been well liked in the district. The church occupied high ground, and a ripping wind billowed coats and snapped at woolen head scarves and brought a flush to aching faces. The mourners could sense the presence of the sea, hidden from them by a belt of pines. Some of them lingered in the church porch, reading the notices about flower rotas, dusting, and brass cleaning; others stood among the gravestones, looking depressed. They had double-parked in the open area beyond the church gate, and would have to wait their turn to get away. Ginny, leaning on the arm of her son, moved from group to group, offering a few tactful words to soothe their feelings; she understood that death is embarrassing. Her own family--her son, Daniel, who was an architect, her daughter, Claire, who was a buyer at Harrods--had been as gentle and as careful of her feelings as anyone could wish. But--even as she deferred the moment--Ginny felt that it was Emma to whom she wished to speak, to whom naturally she should be speaking. Patting her son''s arm, smiling up and dismissing him, she made her way across the grass with a short, precisely regulated stride, her high heels spiking holes in the ground like some primitive seed drill. Ginny Palmer was a sharp, neat, Wallis Simpson sort of woman, to whom black lent an added definition. As she advanced onEmma, she took from her pocket a crisp lace-edged handkerchief, folded it very small and polished the tip of her nose: a gesture quite unnecessary, but somehow drawn out of her by the occasion. You see me, the widow: fastidious but distraught. Emma Eldred kept her hands in her pockets; she had forgotten her gloves. She wore the coat that she had worn for years, to go out on her doctor''s rounds, to go shopping, to go out walking, and to meet Felix. She saw no need for any other coat, in her ordinary life or on a day like this; it was dark, it was decent, and--she felt obscurely--it was something Felix would have recognized. Emma Eldred was not a large woman, but gave the appearance of it: forty-eight years old, her face innocent of cosmetics, her broad feet safely encased in scuffed shoes decorated by leather tassels which somehow failed to cut a dash. Emma had known Ginny''s husband since childhood. She might have married him; but Felix was not what Emma considered a serious man. Their relationship had, she felt, borne all the weight it could. As Ginny approached, Emma shrunk into herself, inwardly but not outwardly. A stranger, only partly apprised of the situation, would have taken Ginny for the smart little mistress, and Emma for the tatty old wife. The women stood together for a moment, not speaking; then as the wind cut her to the bird bones, Ginny took a half step closer, and stood holding her mink collar up to her throat. "Well, Ginny," Emma said, after a moment. "I''m not here to act as a windbreak." She drew her right hand from her pocket, and gave Ginny a pat on the shoulder. It was a brusque gesture, less of consolation than of encouragement; what you might give a weary nag, as it faces the next set of hurdles. Ginny averted her face. Tears sprang into her eyes. She took out her tiny handkerchief again. "Why, Emma?" she said. She sounded fretful, but as if her fretfulness might turn to rage. "Tell me why. You''re a doctor." "But not his doctor." "He wasn''t ill. He never had a day''s illness." Emma fixed her gaze on the tassels of her shoes. She imaginedherself looking right through her dead lover; through his customary tweed jacket, his lambswool pullover, his striped shirt, through the skin, through the flesh, into the arteries where Felix''s blood moved slowly, a dark underground stream with silted banks. "No one could have known," she said. "No one could have spared you this shock, Ginny. Will you be all right, my dear?" "There''s plenty of insurance," Ginny said. "And the house. I''ll move of course. But not just yet." "Don''t do anything in a hurry," Emma said. She had meant her question in a broad sense, not as an inquiry into Ginny''s financial standing. She raised her head, and saw that they were being watched. The eyes of the other mourners were drawn to them, however hard those mourners tried to look away. What do they all think, Emma wondered: that there will be some sort of embarrassing scene? Hardly likely. Not at this time. Not in this place. Not among people like ourselves, who have been reared in the service of the great god Self-Control. "Ginny," she said, "you mustn''t stand about here. Let Daniel drive you home." "A few people are coming back," Ginny said. She looked at Emma in faint surprise, as if it were natural that she would know the arrangements. "You should come back too. Let me give you some whiskey. A freezing day like this ... Still, better than rain. Claire''s staying on over the weekend." Ginny raised her hand, and twitched at her collar again. "Emma, I''d like to see you. Like you to come to the house ... Mrs. Gleave is making vol-au-vents ..." Her voice tailed off entirely. Emma''s brother, Ralph Eldred, loomed purposefully behind them: a solid figure, hands scrunched into the pockets of his dark wool overcoat. Ginny looked up. The sight of Ralph seemed to restore her. "Ralph, thank you for coming," she said. "Come back with us and have some whiskey." "I should take myself off," Ralph said. "I have to go to Norwich this afternoon to a meeting. But naturally if you want me to, Ginny ... if I can be of any help ..." He was weighing considerations,as he always did; his presence was wanted on every hand, and it was simply a question of where he was needed most. "Why, no," Ginny said. "It was a courtesy, Ralph. Do run along." She managed a smile. It was her husband''s underoccupation that had freed him for his long years of infidelity; but Ralph''s days were full, and everybody knew it. There were advantages, she saw, in being married to a man who thought only of work, God, and family; even though the Eldred children did look so down-at-heel, and had been so strangely brought up, and even though Ralph''s wife was worn to a shadow slaving for his concerns. Ralph''s wife Anna wore a neat black pillbox hat. It looked very smart, though it was not remotely in fashion. Lingering in the background, she gave Ginny a nod of acknowledgment and sympathy. It was an Anna Eldred nod, full of I-do-not-intrude. Ginny returned it; then Ralph took his wife''s arm, and squired her away at a good clip toward their parked car. Ginny looked after them. "You wonder about marriage," she said suddenly. "Are marriages all different, or all alike?" Emma shrugged, shoulders stiff inside her old coat. "No use asking me, Ginny."

Inside the car, Ralph said, "It''s not right, you know. It''s not, is it? For Emma to find out like that. More or less by chance. And only when it was all over." "It was all over very quickly," Anna said. "From what I gather." "Yes, but to have no priority in being told--" "I expect you think Ginny should have rung her from the hospital, do you? Just given her a tinkle from the intensive care unit?" "--to have no right to know. That''s what galls me. It''s inhuman. And now Ginny gets all the sympathy, all the attention. I''m not saying she doesn''t need and deserve it. But Emma gets nothing, not a word. Only this public embarrassment." "I see--you think that as Emma was the maîtresse en titre, she should be allowed to put on a show of her own?" Anna sighed. "I''m sure Felix has left her some fine diamonds, and a

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