Random House: Bringing You the Best in Fiction, Nonfiction, and Children's Books
Newletters and Alerts

Buy now from Random House

  • Consumption
  • Written by Kevin Patterson
  • Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9780307278944
  • Our Price: $18.95
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Consumption

Buy now from Random House

  • Consumption
  • Written by Kevin Patterson
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307455666
  • Our Price: $13.99
  • Quantity:
See more online stores - Consumption


    Select a Format:
  • Book
  • eBook

Written by Kevin PattersonAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Kevin Patterson


List Price: $13.99


On Sale: July 08, 2008
Pages: 400 | ISBN: 978-0-307-45566-6
Published by : Anchor Knopf
Consumption Cover

Share & Shelve:

  • Add This - Consumption
  • Email this page - Consumption
  • Print this page - Consumption
Tags for this book (powered by Library Thing)
fiction (26) inuit (8) tuberculosis (8) canada (7) canadian (6)
» see more tags
» hide


Born in the 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic life of the Inuit until, at age ten, she is sent to a sanitarium to recover from tuberculosis. Six years later, she returns to a radically different world, a stranger to her family and culture. She marries a non-Inuit, Robertson; as their children gravitate toward the pop culture of the mainland, and as her husband exploits the economic opportunities that the Arctic offers, Victoria is torn between her family and her ancestors, between the communal life of the North and the material life of the “South.” Kevin Patterson, acclaimed author of The Water in Between and Country of Cold, exposes the consequences of cultural assimilation, and the toll that modernization takes on communities in this epic novel of the Arctic.


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 two of them, entwined, had faded. In another conscious moment she was able to blink the topic away and out of her thoughts. As it had been.

She could hear her girls, Marie and Justine, whispering to each other in their bedroom. She couldn’t tell what they were saying. She heard the word “potato.” Pauloosie, her son, her oldest child, was silent. She listened carefully and thought she could hear him turning in his bed. And then the wind wound up and just howled.

As a girl she had not been this restless, waiting out storms with her parents on the land in a little iglu, drinking sweet tea and lying on caribou skins. It had been more dangerous then but less frightening. Storms make an iglu feel more substantial somehow. This house, on the other hand, felt as if it were about to become airborne, and it would have if not for the bolts tethering it to its pilings. It had been made in Montreal, of particleboard and aluminum siding, before being shipped by barge to Hudson Bay, sagging from square with each surge of the sea. Where the door frame gapped away from the kitchen door, snow sprayed through in parabolas. These wee drifts persisted as long as the door stayed closed. After five days they seemed as permanent as furniture. The wind whistling under the house kept the kitchen floor nearly as cold as the stone beneath it.

That stone slid, in its turn, through the town, to the shore, and then under the ice of Hudson Bay, angling shallowly out into the sea basin like a knife slipping between skin and meat. And on top of that water was ice, a quarter million square miles of it, arid and flat and sucking in the frigid air from the High Arctic like a bellows—blowing it down through Rankin Inlet and into the rest of the unmindful continent. Chicago would be Rome but for this frozen ocean, not that its significance is known to anyone who doesn’t live alongside it.

Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Baker Lake, Coral Harbour, Whale Cove: variations on the theme of shelter from the sea, each of these hamlets lies on the west coast of Hudson Bay, named by nineteenth–century whalers seeking safety. The smallest is a couple hundred people and the largest of these, Rankin Inlet, is two thousand, almost all Inuit, with a handful of southerners, Kablunauks, among them.

The people exist along this coast against a backdrop of a half million square miles of tundra, gently rolling treeless plains. In the summer, this land is boggy and moss–bound; in the winter, frozen and blasted lowlands, eskers of rock protruding through shallow snow. The Inuit lived here for ten thousand years, pulling their living from this meager forage until the 1960s, when they accreted in the little government towns built along the coast and left the tundra empty of human inhabitants for the first time since the glacial ice had melted.

Victoria and Robertson had been married a year when Robertson paid to have this house shipped here for his new family to live in. It was twice the size of the housing department shacks offered to the rest of the community; this benefit of marrying a Kablunauk had been remarked upon in Victoria’s presence since the house had floated its way to the bay at the edge of the town. The other young families were crowded into the back rooms of their relatives’ cramped houses, and privacy such as Victoria knew was considered an uncommon luxury.

Robertson was not from here, and so no toothless and snuff–spitting aunts had been assigned to their family. The drawbacks of marrying a Hudson’s Bay Company man had been explored by dozens of women in the town, but this single advantage held. She lay in her bed now and listened to her daughters squealing and whispering and calling out to each other. This was an intimacy, she thought, that could never be available to a family who shared their house with another. She was lucky, at least on that score. But then, she thought, there might be a different kind of intimacy available to the cousins and brothers who had grown up unencumbered by the rind of privacy.

She was thinking about that when the banging at the kitchen door began. Victoria thought the door had become unfastened, and she leapt out of bed to close it before it was torn from its hinges. When she got to the kitchen she turned on the lights and saw her father standing just inside the door. Drifted snow stretched out alongside him on the kitchen floor. His eyebrows and eyelashes were coated in ice, and his caribou parka shed granules of snow steadily as he stood there.

Qanuipiit?” he asked.

Qanawingietunga,” she replied. As good as could be expected, anyway. They were all bored, certainly, but the furnace was working and there was food. Which was rather a lot to express with a shrug and a single word, but sufficiently severe terrain makes for a pronounced economy of expression. Consequently, Inuktitut is the very language of economy.

Ublumi anarahkto.”

A little windy? Her father’s understatement made her smile. Justine and Marie appeared in the kitchen, drawn by the sound of conversation, and when they saw their grandfather in his sealskin kamiks they paused behind their mother. Twelve and fourteen years old, they were nearly as tall as the old man and were not prepared to greet him while dressed in their pajamas. Pauloosie loomed up behind his younger sisters in a flannel shirt and jeans. The old man reached inside his jacket and pulled out a plastic grocery bag. He held it out to the boy. “Tuktu.” he said.

Pauloosie took the bag of caribou meat. “Koyenamee.


The steaks were frozen into pink and cartilaginous bricks. Pauloosie took the bag to the kitchen sink and peeled away the plastic. He began rinsing the meat off with cold water, picking away the bits of hair and tendon that stuck to it. Victoria and her father watched him. “How is Robertson?” Emo asked.

“He’s in Yellowknife again. Gets home next week.”


“He’s bidding on a contract.”

“He works so much.” The old man looked around the kitchen as he said this, as if scanning the house for evidence of the man’s absence.

“He does.” Victoria followed her father’s eyes around her kitchen defensively.

“Do you need anything here?”

“Not really.” Which was to say: nothing at all.

“I didn’t see the lights on.”

“There’s ice over the windows.”

“You should tell the girls to put some clothes on. It’s ten in the morning.”

“They will.”

Justine and Marie were down the hall and out of range before Victoria's backward glance even came close to them.

“Your mother wanted me to see how you were.”

“Why didn’t she phone?”

“It’s not working again.”

“Do you need money?”

“No. We just forgot.”

“I’m going to the bank when the storm lets up. I could take care of it.”

“If you want.”

“I will.”

“Do you need some fish?”

“We still have char left over from the fall.”

“Tagak shot a nanuq last week.”

“A good one?”

“Eleven feet.”

“That will get him two thousand dollars, anyway.”

Emo stood there a moment, studying his daughter. If Emo had been the man his own father–in–law was, he would have pushed Robertson off the floe edge and into the sea by now. He turned to the door and opened it.

Ublukatiarak, attatatiak,” Pauloosie said.

"Igvalu, irnuktuq," Emo answered.

After her father was gone, Victoria cut up a pound of bacon and began frying it. Justine leaned over the kitchen table, opening her math book to do her long division. Marie sat closest to the stove with her Nancy Drew mystery: The Secret of the Old Clock. On the cover, a blond and dauntless Nancy peeked worriedly from behind a tree larger than anyone in the room had ever seen. Pauloosie laid the caribou meat on the counter and began cutting thin strips off it with his hunting knife and stuffing them into his mouth. After a few minutes of this, the bacon was finished and Victoria put a plate of it down in front of the girls.

The wind surged again and rose a half tone in register. Victoria looked out the window at the blowing snow. Pauloosie retreated to his room wordlessly. Her daughters read silently beside her. Storms like this make you appreciate a house. All you had to do was keep from losing your mind.

Chapter Two

When Victoria was ten years old, in the summer of 1962, she was brought on board the government ship C.D. Howe, a red steel supply vessel that traveled along the west coast of Hudson Bay each summer. Her family had noticed how she spent her days squinting into the sky for birds she could hear but not see and peering at stone cairns, Inukshuk, she thought were people. The C.D. Howe conducted tuberculosis screenings and ran a vaccination program together with general minor medical care and eyeglass dispensing. In the late 1950s, the people remained for the most part on the land, coming to the coast in the summer to trade the furs they had accumulated over the winter, and to catch char and arviaat, beluga whales. While they camped there, steel freighters plied the coast, dropping off crates of fox traps and rifle cartridges and flour and tinned meat at the Hudson’s Bay posts, or, in the instance of the government ships, inserting medical appliances into ears and pushing naked chests against X–ray plates and collecting sputa in metal cups.

Emo and Winnie rowed their children, Victoria and Tagak, out to the ship a few minutes after it anchored in the inlet. It was August and there were twelve families camped, waiting for the trading ships. It was getting colder but was not yet cold enough to travel easily on the land. And the rain had come. The walrus hunting was finished until the ice froze again, the deer were far inland, and char were no longer running, so the people were bored and had spent the previous several weeks playing cribbage and arguing. When the government ship appeared, it was greeted as a break in the boredom, and everyone climbed into the boats to visit with the iqswaksayee.

The lab on board the ship processed their sputum samples on the spot and the doctor dispensed antibiotics for the ear infections and provided spectacles to the squinting children. Victoria had wire–framed glasses strapped to her head and gasped at the sudden clarity of the world. All the children were weighed and measured. With the doctor were two nurses who were not nuns but another kind of nurse, whose devotion to their profession was less absolute and more understandable: “nungurayak” was the name for these women, which meant “false nun.” The nurses who spoke enough Inuktitut to understand the etymology of their title were constantly amused by it.

One of these women steered Victoria into a waiting room with her mother and father. Her mother teased Victoria about her glasses, but all she felt was a suffused contentment. Even at a distance, she could see the world now, found it many times as rich and detailed and complex as she had previously understood. One image burned itself into her memory: her father standing in the companionway of the ship in his spring boots, kamiks, and caribou parka, brown and lined in a way that had surprised her. Beside him: her mother, her marriage tattoos almost obscured by her tan, which stopped just where her father's did, at the throat. There, their skin became as pale as a char's belly, and remained so right out to their wrists.

She studied the lines on the backs of her father’s hands, and the fineness of the stitching on his waterproof sealskin boots. She noticed the skepticism in the eyes of her mother, which she had not appreciated before, and the unease in her face as she stood in the Kablunauk ship. A moment earlier, the iqswaksayee had finished explaining to her, through the interpreter, how to care for Tagak’s ear infections. He turned then and walked crisply away, the scent of perfumed soap and shaving cream wafting to her wrinkling nose. Behind her parents, Victoria could see the drip marks in the paint on the ship’s bulkheads; she could see the gray in her parents’ hair and how much skinnier their faces were than she had realized.

In the cramped waiting room were squeezed Victoria, her parents, Tagak on his mother’s knee, the iqswaksayee, Caroline Kapak, the woman hired to interpret the local dialect, and Siruqsuk. Siruqsuk was one of the oldest of the Inuit elders in the area, though she was not accorded the deference usually paid to the very aged because of the low stature of her family and because of a whispered–about scandal to do with a long–dead husband and her sister.

Siruqsuk had lived on the margins of several encampments and was discreetly and grudgingly given food by her nephews when there was enough to share. Victoria had been aware of her for as long as she could remember, though they had not talked often. The iqswaksayee spoke in his flat and guttural Kablunuktitut language, and Caroline Kapak translated. “He says he’s sorry but the X–rays show puvaluq. You’re both going to have to go with the ship to the sanatorium.” Victoria wondered if she was going to have to live with Siruqsuk while her parents were away when she realized Caroline was looking at her and the old woman.


The ship made for the Hudson Strait, and then for the open Atlantic and around to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and, eventually, Montreal. Siruqsuk and Victoria watched from the stern as the ribbon of shore disappeared behind them. Victoria kept a firm grip on her heavy skirts in the wind and the old woman put her stringy arm around the girl’s shoulders. Victoria asked what she knew about where they were going. Siruqsuk told her there would be plenty to eat when they got there and that the other Inuit in the hospital would take care of them. They could both feel the ship’s engines throbbing through the deck. Then the fog closed in and they went inside.

From the Hardcover edition.
Kevin Patterson|Author Q&A

About Kevin Patterson

Kevin Patterson - Consumption

Photo © Lawrence Melious

Kevin Patterson grew up in Manitoba, and put himself through medical school by joining the Canadian army. Now a specialist in internal medicine, he practices in the Arctic and on the coast of British Columbia. His first book, The Water In Between, was a New York Times Notable Book. Country of Cold, his debut short fiction collection, won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2003, as well as the inaugural City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. He lives on Saltspring Island, Canada.

Author Q&A


You're a prize-winning author and a practicing physician. Did you want to be a doctor or a writer growing up? How did you manage to do both careers?
I came to do both fairly accidentally. My twin brother was the one who was destined to be a physician. I was a disengaged metal-headed high school student in the power mechanics career stream, when I came home from school one day and realized that giggling, high, under a car every day was probably not a realizable life ambition. My brother had been taking pre-requisite courses for pre-medicine, and the application forms were laying about the house. I found some and filled them in and the next thing I knew I was in medicine--and broke. Which led to the next accident: I impetuously signed up with the Canadian military to pay for my tuition and books, and on graduation, found myself working in a Manitoba artillery base, taking care of 400 twenty-two year olds who had nothing other than boxer's fractures and urethritis wrong with them. Some days, my work was done by nine in the morning. I started writing short stories, to pass the time. After a while I started selling them. Pretty quickly, those stories were most of what I thought about--besides women. I was twenty-five when I started work there. And it was an army base a hundred miles from the nearest city. The interior life became the only release. Perhaps we should say distraction?

Tell us about your stint in the Canadian army. Did that experience help to shape you as a writer?

Here's what I think any writer trying to finish a book should do: find a job that requires you to be awake, sober and dressed at seven in the morning, under threat of a loud man or woman coming to your door. That job would require a minimum in the way of actual attention to anything, and some privacy. It should pay well enough that money isn't so tight that it becomes a source of anxiety, but neither should it be so plentiful that people notice you. There should be an absolute absence of interesting conversation or intellectual stimulation, but books should be available and the mail should be reliable.
I'm thinking that there are a few possible jobs that meet most of these: a forest fire spotter in one of those towers in Montana (though the need to keep your eye out for smoke is problematic); parking lot attendant (though the money might be pretty tight); but a regimental doctor in a peacetime Canadian Army formation is pretty much the ideal. Also, the doctors in the army are all fairly alien to the combat arms soldiers. They have a whiff of intellectualism about them, they're all mostly pretty clear that they'll retire five minutes after their obligatory service is finished, and a couple of dozen push ups finishes them. Being alien is very good for getting writing done. Exiles know this. But if one needs both familiar food and sunlight--these sort of jobs are the way to go.

In what ways has practicing medicine helped you as a writer? Do you find writing and practicing medicine to be complimentary to each other?

Clinical medicine is all about eliciting and interpreting stories. It's a nostrum of medical education that the patient's history provides the diagnosis ninety per cent of the time, the examination nine percent of the time, and lab tests one per cent of the time. Nuance and foreshadowing and metaphor and symbolism and repetition are all pivotally important to any diagnostician.
Moreover, though doctors complain that their social position is not as exalted as it once was--the Buick has been replaced by the Beamer as the “Doctor Car,” so the decline seems to me to be mostly in their heads--their fall has nevertheless been not as precipitous as that of other "professional" classes, especially that of the clergy. The vacuum left by all those dropped collars and robes has doctors listening to the most amazing stories and confessions. I spend most of my time working in a community ICU, and the need for families to talk about their dying spouses/parents/children is almost universal. They want to be understood, as do the sick themselves. War veterans who haven't spoken a word about their soldiering in sixty years start relaying anecdotes about the nineteen-year-old versions of themselves that leave one gobsmacked. Elderly women speak of all the children they lost to measles and polio and tuberculosis. Being in the position of proximate listener is the essential privilege of doctoring.
You travel frequently to the Arctic to practice medicine. Why are you attracted to the Arctic, and why do you continue to go back? What are the dramatic changes you've seen in the Arctic since you've been traveling there?

I've never gotten over my incredulity that anyone has ever actually managed to live there at all, and the idea that people did that without diesel generators and fuel oil staggers me. There's no wood up there, nothing to make a house or a campfire with. The kind of resilience necessary to do that doesn't just dissipate immediately after the physical demands of living there lessen. I think there was a kind of taciturn and absolute resolution necessary to survive there that is actually a pretty heavy burden. And that sternness endures in many of the older people.
Nevertheless, the place is changing, and the magnitude and pace of that change exceeds anything any other part of the world has seen. Until the late 1960s there were still people living on the land, following the caribou around, living mostly as they had for twenty thousand years. And now the problem is internet porn. Try to get grandpa and junior to talk about that.
Can you talk about the modern contradictions of the Arctic, how tradition battles with modernity? How are these contradictions reflected in Consumption?
People can adapt to anything, I think, and this is demonstrated by the success of the Inuit in the treeless Arctic itself. Nothing about the way we live at the moment is less strange than that. But what does disorient people is very rapid change.  And what's unprecedented about the way everyone lives, from the Inuit to Brooklyn art students, is the rapidity of that change. We all just got e-mail about twelve years ago. Cellphones were the size of toasters just before that. You had to go to an Italian cafe to get a cup of coffee that wasn't light brown. Beer was all variations of pilsner.
Compare these changes, which seem striking enough, to coming to the same place from a hunting-gathering existence at the same time Jim Morrison was breaking on through to the other side--which is only a more compressed version of the same transition the entire world has gone through over the last few lifetimes. It has a comparable effect on everyone. The experienced are rendered obsolete, and grandparents are devalued; we all keep struggling to find the easiest way to do things, long after unnecessary expenditures of effort stop being life threatening--and so we engorge. As it becomes less possible to know what to expect we become skeptical to the point of cynicism. From cynicism flows materialism and consumerism. Our garages become stuffed and everyone aspires to--and increasingly becomes--rich. Men stopped wearing hats overnight, and churches may empty in a heartbeat, but a yacht is forever. The rich don't have babies, partly in order to preserve their riches. And so their possessions are even more heavily freighted. This is Western Europe, America and the Arctic.  

Why did you choose the title Consumption for your novel?

Consumption is an old word for tuberculosis, especially the chronic wasting illness it caused, and TB is important both to the book's plot and to the history of the Inuit. It also alludes to the idea of affluence, and the disordering effect of affluence is one of the ideas of the book, too.

One of the larger themes of the novel is dislocation and shifts in identity. This is reflected mostly through the character of Victoria, who moves to the south at a very early age, and when she comes back to the Arctic, it's changed drastically. Can you talk more about this dislocation, particularly as it relates to what the Inuit went through over the last half century?
The Inuit moved from the most traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle to the Facebook era in about fifteen minutes. Until the late sixties, there were still Inuit living on the land, hunting caribou and seal--even today, when one is talking to someone fifty or older, the chances are good that their childhood was spent in migration, watching the geese and the weather and arctic char, just as their ancestors did for thousands, even millions of years. That kind access to our origins is enviable, but the subsequent pace of change has been violently fast. And because it has been so compressed, this transition reveals things about the way we live now. It demonstrates that lots of phenomena that dominate our lives are not inevitabilities of being human, but rather, mostly a product of how we have constructed our lives. Disaffected teenagers, heart disease, and depression are examples of this.
The Inuit are becoming more and more indistinguishable from southerners, and as tax woes and job stress progressively replace all the more primal threats, they exhibit responses to them that are the same as any people that face them. But in the meantime, I think they are caught in a strange transition phase that is disorienting and hard on everyone. It is interesting, too, to see which elements of the old life are mourned and which elements of the new are welcome. There are surprises in there.
 One of the characters, Keith Balthazar, is a doctor practicing in the Arctic town of Rankin Inlet. How much of you is in the character of Keith Balthazar?

I am neither a morphine addict, nor American, and I am a way, way better doctor than Balthazar is. But I like 30s jazz and possess some of Balthazar's social awkwardness.
Throughout the novel, there are bits of Dr. Keith Balthazar's journal, and some of these entries read almost like nonfiction. How did this "nonfiction" find its way into the novel?

Originally the book was going to be a collection of nonfiction essays about cultural change in the arctic, and in medicine. I was working away at this when it became clear that I was talking around what I was interested in, that the kind of inner turmoil that drew my eye couldn't really be referred to in discussions of the pathophysiology of obesity and diabetes and heart disease. I went for a long sailboat ride down to French Polynesia, and took my laptop with me. By the time I got there, six weeks later, the essays had become the work of a figure about whom I was writing a novel.
Why did you include a storyline set in the United States? Were you trying to show or address anything in particular with this storyline?
Amanda's story echoes the story of Victoria's daughters; I wanted it to be clear that this is not a book about the trouble of the Inuit, but rather it's about the trouble we all face. The same ideas of dislocation and generational alienation and confusion affect southerners and more traditional peoples. We are to some degree inured to our experience of these, which is why it might be interesting to examine these things through the lens of the Inuit, but the same factors are at play in all societies because, increasingly, we all belong to the same society.

What are you working on now?
I'm working on the second volume of a travel trilogy about the Pacific Ocean. (The first was The Water In Between, which Nan A Talese/Doubleday published in 2000.) It's called Becalm and is about a sailing voyage I made around the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, a weather/ocean current system which dominates the North Pacific Ocean. I'm also co-editing an anthology of first person narrative writing about the war in Afghanistan, called Outside the Wire. It will come out this winter.

From the Hardcover edition.



"Gently seductive. . . . Remarkably compelling. . . . [Patterson's] insight into the human condition pulls us to the heart of events."—The Washington Post“Utterly absorbing. . . . Engag[es] the heart as well as the mind in the service of a greater truth.” —The Times-Picayune “Patterson's own experience . . . lends his simply told, involving novel an unmatchable authority.”—Entertainment Weekly“Patterson is a sure guide through inhospitable terrain, be it [that] of the tundra or the far recesses of the soul.”—The New Yorker
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Gently seductive. . . . Remarkably compelling. . . . [Patterson's] insight into the human condition pulls us to the heart of events.”
The Washington Post

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of Kevin Patterson's Consumption.

About the Guide

Born in the 1950s, Victoria knows nothing but the nomadic life of the Inuit until, at age ten, she is sent to a sanitorium to recover from tuberculosis. Six years later, she returns to a radically different world, a stranger to her family and culture. She marries a non-Inuit, Robertson; as their children gravitate toward the pop culture of the mainland, and as her husband exploits the economic opportunities that the Arctic offers, Victoria is torn between her family and her ancestors, between the communal life of the North and the material life of the “South.”

Kevin Patterson, acclaimed author of The Water in Between and Country of Cold, exposes the consequences of cultural assimilation, and the toll that modernization takes on communities in this epic novel of the Arctic.

About the Author

Kevin Patterson is the author of the memoir The Water in Between, which was a New York Times Notable Book. Country of Cold, his short fiction collection, won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize, as well as the inaugural City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. He lives in Saltspring Island, Canada.

Discussion Guides

1. The narrator states “any contention that technology inevitably demeans humans falters on considering what must have been the misery of that life,” referring to the Dorset Inuit, who lacked the sophisticated tools of the later Thule Inuit [p. 257]. 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. Victoria's kids and Amanda and her friends are similar in age but live in very different places. Do the problems they face better reflect these similarities or these differences?

5. How did the depiction of the hunting scenes affect your understanding of these characters and the Arctic?

6. The author contends that change is harder on children than on adults. Do you agree with this?

7. What is the author's purpose in interweaving Balthazar's ruminations with the narrative of the novel? What do you learn about Balthazar that you wouldn't have otherwise?

8. Who is the real core, the central character of the book: Victoria, Balthazar, the Inuit, Pauloosie, or Emo?

9. Why won't Victoria have anything to do with Balthazar at the end of the novel? Does this seem convincing?

10. What are the differences between Penny and Johanna's characters, and how do they account for their different fates?

11. Is Robertson on the whole, a sympathetic character? Were you surprised to learn who killed him?

12. Children in the book play the role of savior in several instances, especially to Amanda, Johanna, and Pauloosie. Does this play a role in the author's portrayal of women as more resilient than men, in the face of cultural change?

13. There are several important members of the celibate orders in the book: Isabelle, Bernard, and Raymond. What common role do they play, and why does the author place them so prominently?

14. What does the title Consumption mean to you?

Suggested Readings

Gil Adamson, The Outlander; Amy Bloom, Away; Cindy Dyson, And She Was; Wayne Johnston, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, The Custodian of Paradise; Seth Kantner, Ordinary Wolves; Farley Mowat, People of the Deer; Stef Penney, The Tenderness of Wolves; Dan Simmons, The Terror.

  • Consumption by Kevin Patterson
  • July 08, 2008
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Anchor
  • $18.95
  • 9780307278944

Your E-Mail Address
send me a copy

Recipient's E-Mail Address
(multiple addresses may be separated by commas)

A personal message: