Book Review: Sufferance by Thomas King

I received an advance e-copy of this book thanks to the publisher and NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

Having recently read my first book by Thomas King (see my review of Indians on Vacation here), I thought I’d give his latest book a try too. While I knew before starting that Sufferance would be quite a different book, I found myself continuously surprised at just how broad King’s style and skill is.

Sufferance is narrated by Jeremiah Camp, an experienced forecaster, able to see patterns that others cannot. He has left this all behind him though, returning to his mother’s remote hometown, living in an abandoned residential school. Jeremiah seems determined to remove himself from his former life but the daughter of his former employee wants him for one final forecasting while the town locals seem determined to draw him into small town life.

While I enjoyed Sufferance overall and found King’s writing engaging, I also felt that the book had an uneven tone. It was almost as if there were two stories occurring and they never quite lined up together. There is Jeremiah’s daily life and habits in this small town, filled with somewhat eccentric characters. When the book begins he has created his routines and he engages – sometimes reluctantly – with the townspeople. They each have their oddities and histories and there is the usual sort of small town drama. Part of this drama exists in the conflict between the town government and the Indigenous peoples who live in the town, residing on their own land. The mayor is an almost cartoonishly evil character who wants to literally move the entire band so that he can build a new shopping centre. At the same time, given everything that’s in the news now and is sadly true about the history of the Canadian government and the Indigenous peoples of Canada, I found this pretty believable.

The other story involves Jeremiah’s former employer, a list of names, and the possible murder of billionaires around the world. The first plotline has the gentle frustration and humour that I recognized from Indians on Vacation. The second plotline is more about fancy cars, silent bodyguards, and elaborate conspiracy theories. It had the potential to be a thrilling story but it didn’t feel fleshed out enough for me to be invested in the secret behind this list of names.

Added to all this is the fact that Jeremiah Camp doesn’t speak. He doesn’t utter a single word out loud throughout the novel. As the narrator, this is an easy fact to forget while reading but every now and then it would come rushing back to me to make me wonder once more how exactly Jeremiah had met all these people. It just didn’t seem practical. And while silence suited his stoic, solid character, it also seemed like King could have created something similar while allowing his narrator to say at least a couple of things.

I still hope to return to some of King’s older work as his voice and talent is clear and he definitely has a skill for creating memorable characters. Even his minor characters felt strong and true to life.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Sufferance by Thomas King”

  1. I typically love small-town, odd-ball-character books. I still want them to be believable, but odd. I loved Noah’s Wife by Lindsay Starck, for example, a loose retelling of Noah’s Ark.

    1. I mostly found the town characters pretty believable but it was Jeremiah’s character that I had trouble with. I think he’s supposed to be secretly charmed by the town residents but his narration doesn’t really seem to like them and I never got why he hung around them or even chose to be in that town. A retelling of Noah’s ark sounds fascinating though!

  2. I think I also would have found the first story more enjoyable and it doesn’t sound like it ran alongside the attempt at a thriller-ish story very well.

  3. Oh my, it sounds like this book has some definite problems! I’ve never read his mysteries, but I’ve always wanted to. I just finished hosting a corporate book club that studied his book Inconvenient Indians, and his sarcastic humour was a great part of that book too 🙂

    1. I really want to read Inconvenient Indian. I like his sarcastic humour too and I thought it worked well in Indians on Vacation whereas this was more of a thriller style so it felt out of place.

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