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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Reader's Diary #282- Kevin Patterson: Consumption (FINISHED!!)

On a positive note (and there aren't many), the preachiness I complained about earlier diminished about half-way through. Finally, I was able to analyze the book on its story-telling merits.

Merits, schmerits. This book is a mess. It begins with the story of Victoria, a young Inuk girl, who is taken away from her family and brought to a sanatorium in the South to treat her tuberculosis. It's a fine opening actually, and I looked forward to the rest of the story of her life. Sadly, after 50 pages of following her, Patterson decides to introduce more characters. And more characters. And then a few more.

I'm not against a plethora of characters. I just want there to be some balance or at the very least, have them relate to the overall story. The result of this abundance of characters was a lack of attachment. Towards the end the book becomes just one tragedy after another, and instead of breaking my heart, it left me underwhelmed. The preposterous number of deaths came across as farcical, maybe a satire of a Shakespearean tragedy. Plus, there were some characters that I wondered why he even bothered introducing us to at all. In particular, a teacher named Johanna has her own story line that is just barely attached to the main plot(s), and to put it bluntly, is just boring. Perhaps she was meant to be a balance to the other focal teacher, Penny. Johanna is presented as one of the typical teachers who doesn't throw away her Southern identity in its entirety, unlike Penny who sacrifices it all to be a "true" Northerner. But Johanna is not an adequate balance- instead she amounts to a waste of time: a dull plot that goes nowhere.

Then there's the piece at the end. Presented as an unpublished manuscript by Keith Balthazar, a doctor that appeared in the book, I wondered why it didn't stay unpublished. It begins with a discussion of tuberculosis and goes on to talk about all sorts of medical terminology, diabetes, and so forth. 60 pages of this. Talk about anticlimactic, it adds nothing to the previous story whatsoever.

I think one of the things that bothers me most is the positive reviews I've seen for this book. Normally that wouldn't be an issue for me- if others liked the book, good for them- but the reasons given by most of them seem naive. At best, it seems to perpetuate their preformed opinions about how we're killing the planet, destroying cultures and so forth, and at worst, they feel they're learning something about the North. Kevin Patterson can hardly be blamed for that- who goes to a novel for facts? Still, I wish someone would acknowledge that like Wayne Johnston's Colony of Unrequited Dreams, history has been altered for dramatic effect. While yes, people were taken South for tuberculosis treatment at sanatoriums, and yes, there was a nickel mine in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut (where Consumption is set) at one point, the parts about the diamond mine and a hospital in the town during the late 80s and early 90s are entirely fictional- plausible, but not actual. I lived in Rankin Inlet for four years and while I certainly realize that surely wasn't long enough to learn all the history of the town, it was enough to spot the inaccuracies with Patterson's book. Oddly, it's one of the few things for which I don't fault him.

5 comments:

Chris said...

Think I'll skip this one. I still haven't read Colony though, it's on the list.

Sometimes I wonder if the blurbs on the jackets are for real. I've been reading a lot of complaints lately about just that. Sometimes I wonder if the person even read the book!

John Mutford said...

Chris, I recommend Colony to just about anybody. This one, not so much.

I've had jacket blurbs just about ruin an otherwise fine book for me. Sometimes they're just so over-the-top, I've found myself being overly critical just to prove them wrong.

John Mutford said...

In the interest of keeping things balanced, here's Sam's much more positive review.

John Mutford said...

And another positive (mostly) review by Wanda.

Wanda said...

Grant it, I've only been reading your reviews for a little over a year but when they start with (FINISHED!!) I know it isn't gonna be pretty. You had me giggling at the top of paragraph two, not laughing at you, just enjoying your review personality!

I was wondering (after your comment on my review) if the teacher thing was the problem ... I agree that Patterson doesn't exactly paint them in a favourable light but I see there was more than one nail in the coffin for you with this book. Truthfully, I didn't mind Johanna so much as Dr. Balthazar's relatives and the New York storyline. Besides, without Johanna I wouldn't have been left drooling after her ex sent her that crate of food and she was up all night cooking. Food descriptions in novels don't always do it for me but that one sure as heck did! That little passage also served as the polar opposite (bad pun, I know!) of what Pauloosie considers "tasty".

The positive in a bad reading experience for you John, is the top notch negative review your readers are treated to. Considering these and your earlier thoughts though, in the case of Consumption, I'm glad I finished the book beforehand. I'm too easily swayed, lol :P