Consumption: A Novel

In this odd book by Canadian author and physician Kevin Patterson, the acknowledgments are at the end. I should have read this page first. The book seemed disjointed, and I wasn’t always sure who was the narrator, who was the protagonist, or even what year it was. And then I read that the book was not written as a whole, but was put together from a collection of essays. Lesson learned!

This novel is, presumably, about an Inuit woman, Victoria who, as a young child, was sent to a sanatorium is southern Canada to recover from tuberculosis. After six years in the south, she is returned to her family and her Inuit culture. She barely speaks their language anymore, and is a stranger to their way of life. Although Victoria remains in her home village on the banks of Hudson Bay, she marries Robertson, a”kablaunak”, who works for the Hudson Bay Company.

Some of the story is told through the viewpoint of Keith Balthazar, a New York physician who spends months at a time working in the Arctic (like Kevin Patterson, apparently). Balthazar’s  life is a shambles, and he has few  personal connections. His only friend in the Arctic seems to be the local priest.

So while this novel is presumably about Victoria, in the end it is more about Balthazar. The final sixty pages of the book are an “unpublished manuscript” by Dr. Balthazar titled The Diseases of Affluence. Reading this, we learn more about Dr. B than in the entire rest of the novel.

This is another book that could use a good American copy editor. Dr. B presumably lives in Yonkers, NY (very near me) but he travels to his brother’s house in Newark, NJ as if driving from New York City. It is also unlikely that his brother would actually live in Newark. Most of the affluent whites fled Newark decades ago, and Dr. B’s brother lived there long before Newark’s recent resurgence.

I picked this book up while in Canada on vacation. It should be valuable for Canadian readers  since it does a good job of describing how the Canadian government has dealt with the native Inuits (sadly, not very well). Overall, Consumption is okay, but not worth 393 pages.


Published in hardcover-Nan Talese-2007
Softcover edition-Anchor-2008



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