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Summary and book reviews of Consumption by Kevin Patterson

Consumption

by Kevin Patterson

Consumption
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2007, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2008, 400 pages

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Book Summary

Born on the tundra in the 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic life of the Inuit until, at the age of ten, she is diagnosed with tuberculosis and evacuated to a southern sanitarium. When she returns home six years later, she finds a radically different world, where the traditionally rootless tribes have uneasily congregated in small communities. And Victoria has become a stranger to her family and her culture.

In Rankin Inlet, a small town bordering the Arctic Ocean, the lives of the Inuit are gradually changing. The caribou and seals are no longer plentiful, and Western commerce has come to the community through a proposed diamond mine. Victoria Robertson wakes to a violent storm, her three children stirring in the dark. Her father, Emo, a legendary hunter who has come in off the land to work in a mine, checks to see if the family is all right. So does her Inuit lover, as Victoria’s British husband is away on business.

Thus the reader enters into the modern contradictions of the Arctic—walrus meat and convenience food, midnight sun and 24-hour satellite TV, dog teams and diamond mines—and into the heart of Victoria's internal exile. Born on the tundra in the 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic life of the Inuit until, at the age of ten, she is diagnosed with tuberculosis and evacuated to a southern sanitarium. When she returns home six years later, she finds a radically different world, where the traditionally rootless tribes have uneasily congregated in small communities. And Victoria has become a stranger to her family and her culture.

Chapter One

Storms are sex. They exist alongside and are indifferent to words and description and dissection. It had been blizzarding for five days and Victoria had no words to describe her restlessness. Motion everywhere, even the floors vibrated, and such motion was impossible to ignore, just as it was impossible not to notice the squeaking walls, the relentless shuddering of the wind. Robertson was in Yellowknife, and she and the kids had been stuck in this rattling house for almost a week, the tundra trying to get inside, snow drifting higher than the windows, and everyone inside the house longing to be out.

It was morning, again, and she was awake and so were the kids, but they had all stayed in bed and listened to the walls shake. Nine, or something like that, and still perfectly black. She had been dreaming that she was having sex with Robertson. She was glad she had woken up. Even the unreal picture of it had left her feeling alarmed—though that eased as the image of the...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The narrator states “any conviction that technology inevitably demeans humans fails on contemplating what must have been the misery of that life,” referring to the Dorset Inuit, who lacked the sophisticated tools of the later Thule Inuit.How do you think contemporary Inuit, as they are portrayed in Consumption, feel about technology?

  2. In both the Sanitorium scene and in the depiction of Amanda’s friends the boys seem more displaced, more adrift than the girls. Are girls and women affected differently by rapid cultural change than men and boys? Do you find this portrayal convincing?

  3. Why was Penny so desperate to find Pauloosie after he went out on the land? Would he have made different decisions had he known her state?

  4. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

At first glance the title of this exceptional first novel would seem to refer to the common name for tuberculosis, so named because the infection appears to consume people from within. However, as the novel progresses, consumption takes on a different meaning as we see the Inuit way of life and even the land they live on being consumed by "civilization" and the quest for profit.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (469 words).

Media Reviews

The Vancouver Sun

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 Winnipeg Free Press

[T]he 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.

Kirkus Reviews

[A]n exquisitely-written, elegiac story, Consumption tells of Victoria, an Inuit woman who, sick with tuberculosis, had been exiled to a sanitarium as a youngster, only to return to find her home gone.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [A] searingly visceral message about love, loss and dislocation.

The Vancouver Sun

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 Globe and Mail

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.

Reader Reviews

E. Erickson

Reader Review of CONSUMPTION
This book presented an excellent picture of the changing life of the Inuit. The interstitial segments about health were both interesting and instructing.

Christine Clapp

Consumption
The writing is excellent - I can "feel" the cold of the Arctic and sense these people's way of life - the pull of more modern society - the clutching to old ways. I'm buying a copy for friends and family for Christmas this year.

Natalie

Refutes current propaganda
I love it that the author calls attention to the American diet as he tells the sad tale of the destruction and diseases of the Inuit tribe; you might think he is being politically correct. If you read more carefully, suddenly you realize he is ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Rankin Inlet & The Inuit

Rankin Inlet (picture) has a population of about 2,200. It is located on the 63rd parallel on the west shore of Hudson Bay (map) approximately 1,100 miles north of Winnipeg in the recently formed territory of Nunavut, which was officially separated from the Canadian Northwest Territories in April 1999.


A Short History of the Inuit
According to nunavut.com, the history of the Inuit begins in the southern Bering Sea (North Pacific) where, about 2 to 3,000 years ago, an ancient ...

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