* A compelling and brilliant novel about the fragility of a new marriage, from one of the greatest chroniclers of the mysteries of the heart
Anita Shreve is the author of thirteen other critically acclaimed and bestselling novels, all published in Abacus paperback.
Shreve (Testimony), who worked in Kenya as a journalist early in her career, returns to that country in her slow latest, the story of a photojournalist and her doctor husband, whose temporary relocation abroad goes sour. The year-long research trip is an opportunity for Patrick, but leaves Margaret floundering in colonialist culture shock, feeling like "an actor in a play someone British had written for a previous generation." When a climbing trip to Mt. Kenya goes fatally wrong, Margaret's role in the tragedy drives a quiet wedge between the couple. Compounding those stressors are multiple robberies and adulterous temptations, as well as Margaret's freelance work for a "controversial" newspaper. Written in a strangely emotionless third person, the novel is stuffed with travelogues and vignettes of privileged expatriate life, including the chestnut of Margaret feeling very guilty about being given a rug she admires. While some of these moments aren't bad, the scant dramatic tension and direct-to-video plot make this a slog. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.
Margaret and Patrick are 28-year-old Bostonians living in Kenya in 1977. He's a doctor researching tropical diseases, while she dabbles in photography. They live in the guest house of Brits Arthur and Diana. An impulsive plan to climb to the top of Mount Ken-ya elicits varied responses from the group, which eventually will include a Swiss couple as well. While most see a challenge, if a mild one, Margaret is terrified, scrambling for a way to back out. Ultimately, tragedy strikes, and everyone, including Patrick, looks to Margaret as its cause. The country's race relations contribute to Margaret's feelings of remorse, pushing her to find a job and perhaps a new love. VERDICT The usual pinpoint precision of Shreve's (Testimony) prose is not in evidence here, as readers must work to discover the novel's time frame, and accusations of Margaret's complicity in the accident seem out of proportion, as does her sense of guilt. People who might consider an excursion to Mount Kenya will undoubtedly cancel their airfare and buy a new armchair instead. Shreve fans will demand this one, though. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/09; online reading group guide.]-Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.