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Consumption [Hardcover]

Kevin Patterson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 12 2006
Consumption is a haunting story of a woman’s life marked by struggle and heartbreak, but it is also much more. It stunningly evokes life in the far north, both past and present, and offers a scathing dissection of the effects of consumer life on both north and south. It does so in an unadorned, elegiac style, moving between times, places and people in beautiful counterpoint. But it is also a gripping detective story, and features medical reportage of the highest order.

In 1962 at the age of ten, Victoria is diagnosed with tuberculosis and must leave her home in the Arctic for a sanatorium in The Pas, Manitoba. Six years will pass before she returns to the north, years she spends learning English and Cree and becoming accustomed to life in the south. When she does move home, the sudden change in lifestyle leads sixteen-year-old Victoria to feel like a stranger in her own family. At the same time, Inuit culture is undergoing some equally bewildering changes: Cheetos are being eaten alongside walrus meat, and dog teams are slowly being replaced by snowmobiles.

Victoria eventually settles back into the community and marries John Robertson, a Hudson’s Bay store manager, and they raise three children together. Although their marriage is initially close, Robertson will always be Kablunauk, a southerner, and this becomes a point of contention between them. When Robertson becomes involved in arrangements to open a diamond mine in Rankin Inlet, the family’s financial condition improves, but their emotional life becomes ever more fraught: their son, Pauloosie, draws ever closer to his hunter grandfather as their daughters, Marie and Justine, develop a taste for Guns N’ Roses. Several other richly imagined characters deepen Patterson’s unsentimental portrait of both north and south. They include Dr. Keith Balthazar, a flailing doctor from New York whose despairing affection for Victoria leads to tragedy, and Victoria’s brother, Tagak, who finds that the diamond mine allows him a success and maturity he could never attain within his traditional culture.

The novel deftly tracks the meaning of “consumption” in both north and south. Consumption is tuberculosis, an illness previously unknown among the Inuit that wrenches Victoria from her home as a child, changing her family relationships, her outlook on the world and her entire future. As such consumption is a harbinger of the diseases of affluence, such as diabetes and heart disease that come to afflict the Inuit over the four-decade span of the novel. Consumption also defines the culture of post-industrial, urban North America, captured here through Keith Balthazar’s troubled relatives in New Jersey. And when the diamond mine opens in Rankin Inlet, its consumption of northern natural resources seems to symbolize Canada’s relationship with the Arctic and southern encroachments on the Inuit way of life.

Consumption is a sweeping novel, of the kind one rarely encounters today: it is an essential book for Canadians to linger over, learn from, and remember.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this powerful first novel, a beautiful Inuit woman spends her teen years in the 1960s in a Montreal TB sanitarium, learning French and mathematics from nuns. Upon returning to her Hudson Bay hamlet to live in a government-made dwelling, Victoria feels like a stranger living in a kind of internal exile and shudders at the taste of half-rotted walrus meat. After getting pregnant by a Kablunauk (Inuktitut for white person), she marries him. Husband Robertson's ambition rankles the community to begin with, and when he accepts work from a South African mining company that wants to dig for diamonds in the frozen tundra, things come to a boiling point. Keith Balthazar, a doctor who comes to the community from New York, tends to Victoria's children in illness and gets unexpectedly entwined in the family's life. In language that is always sharp and sometimes mesmerizing, Patterson, author of a story collection and the memoir The Water in Between, seamlessly works murder, sex and intrigue into the mix and offers a terrific cast that makes arctic life, and the ties of kin, palpable. He delivers a searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

Review

“It's this thematic resonance, along with an understated humanism reminiscent of Anton Chekhov (incidentally, another physician), that makes Consumption a quietly devastating novel.
The Vancouver Sun

“Some first novels simply tower above their contemporaries by the scope of their ambition and the power of their vision. Last year, it was Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road; earlier this year it was Madeleine Thien’s Certainty, and now it’s Kevin Patterson’s Consumption.”
The Globe and Mail

“On the surface, Consumption is deceptively simple and gripping. It's the story of one woman and her family. But what a woman -- and what a family!”
The Globe and Mail

“Patterson has seen and done much where two or more world views intersect. It makes him a peculiarly well-informed and insightful guide to the conflicts within the coastal Inuit community of Rankin Inlet in the Canadian Arctic, the primary setting of Consumption…”
The Globe and Mail

“the people in Kevin Patterson's gripping new novel of the North, Consumption, are defiantly human. They are complicated, passionate, troubled, confused and, in some cases, doomed -- by disease, by their own failings and by those of their loves ones and by economic and cultural forces beyond their control.”
The Winnipeg Free Press

Consumption launches a major voice in Canadian fiction”
The Winnipeg Free Press

Praise for Country of Cold:

“[Patterson] . . . has made the leap to fiction with startling grace”
The Georgia Straight

“A masterful debut short-story collection. . . . The stories are rich in event . . . but it’s in characterizations that Patterson shines, capturing shades of ambiguity, uncertainty and small happiness with a deft touch.”
The Vancouver Sun

Country of Cold is a terrific book. Kevin Patterson writes frequently about misfits and loners, but he presents them with such hard-edged clarity and insight that it’s impossible not to think of these people as kin. And whether it’s slapstick hilarity in a prairie Dairy Queen or the dead-serious menace of a winter storm north of the treeline, the writing is always pitch perfect.”
–Michael Crummey, author of River Thieves and The Wreckage

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dr. Patterson, thank you again! Feb. 25 2007
Format:Hardcover
This is a superb read! This is an unmistakably Canadian experience (interestingly with a few reflective American personages). The characters are rich, the landscape is vast, the relationships are moving, and the consumption is raw. For days after I finished the book, I marvelled at how well this piece was delivered. As a Canadian, I feel I have gained slightly more insight into the mysterious North (and more importantly a longing to learn more).

As a physician, I must say one appreciates the sublime but authentic descriptions that span the novel. Of course, the essays in the final section - almost a black-and-white version of the novel - are some of the best I have read. With his abilities, sensibilities and experiences he offers a unique and accurate description of the major health issues of our time.

Dr. Patterson is fondly remembered by those that knew him during his training days here in Halifax. No doubt, he will be appreciated by a great many more for his growing contribution to Canadian literature.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fan south of the border June 20 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As a Yank, I haven't read a whole lot of Canadian novelists, but I have dabbled somewhat. Robertson Davies (Deptford Trilogy -- superb), Margaret Atwood, David Bergen (The Time in Between -- very good!), Hugh MacLennan, Miriam Toews...

Kevin Patterson's Consumption is by far my favorite. Effective both sociologically and psychologically in dealing with the effects of different kinds of consumption patterns (material, medicinal, metaphysical) and with a mysterious death to boot, the book achieves what all great novels do: intertwining personal stories, tragic and triumphant, with nothing less than global implications -- and dramatic suspense to keep you all the more engaged.

Two frustrating boreal mysteries face this American: Why the book hasn't been celebrated more, and where the hell is Dr Patterson's next novel?
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4.0 out of 5 stars northern mystique and harsh reality March 2 2009
Format:Paperback
Highly recommended, this novel is fascinating and really gives the reader a sense of both the myth and the reality of living in the far north. Tragic and beautiful, both sad and hopeful - the novel explores the contradictions and extremes of life in the north. I enjoyed it for the powerful descriptions of landscape and character, the historical background, and the medical insights, each of which serve to tell a compelling story.
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