Shreve (Testimony, 2008, etc.) sends a young American couple up Mt. Kenya, with disastrous consequences for their marriage.
Margaret and Patrick have been in Nairobi for three months. He came to pursue research in tropical diseases while offering his services as a doctor in free clinics; she was bored with her job at a Boston alternative weekly and hopes to find more interesting photography opportunities in Africa. Neither is an experienced climber, nor do they especially like their landlords, Arthur and Diana, who suggest the expedition. But they go along anyway, and it’s athletic Diana who falls to her death. Is Margaret to blame because Diana was exasperated by her slowness and enraged by Arthur’s attentions to the younger woman? Patrick thinks so and says so to his wife; their relationship is on shaky ground for the remainder of the story. It’s not clear precisely what Shreve intends to convey in her tale. She unsparingly depicts the poverty and corruption of late-1970s Kenya and sends Margaret to work at a reforming newspaper whose editor is eventually arrested, but politics are not a central concern. Margaret, the point-of-view character, is a sensitive and thoughtful observer who can’t seem to take hold of her life. Patrick will strike most readers as cold and judgmental from the start; it’s hard to understand what Margaret ever saw in him, and her attraction to a reporter at the Kenya Morning Tribune isn’t much more compelling. The second climb up Mt. Kenya, taken a year after the first, does not in the least meet Patrick’s goal of expunging the “deadly silence” and “devastating mistrust” that have enveloped the couple, but it does restore Margaret’s self-respect and make clear the state of their marriage.
Commendably tough-minded and unsentimental, but not very engaging.