You might think that a novel featuring a self-aggrandizing, hyper-sexual French philosopher who cannibalizes his wife’s body and flees to Japan, only to be stalked there by a self-aggrandizing, hyper-sexual young femme fatale of a journalist, is too much book for anyone to handle. In that thinking, you’d certainly be right.
David Cronenberg is also known as the “baron of blood,” so it feels right that his first novel, Consumed, would stand out on an artistic ledge, like so many of his movies have before: from A History of Violence to Videodrome, Cronenberg shakes us up with his work, making us aware of our bodies in a way we often try to forget. He offers us up conspiracies just as reasonable as much of what happens today, resulting in a constantly questioned paranoia.
So, then, how to describe Consumed? As tempting as it is to list off everything explored here, from 3D printers creating bent penises to kidnappings of Cannes Film Festival directors by the North Korean government, I’m going to attempt to summarize the plot. Freelance journalists Naomi and Nathan love each other in the most modern way you can possibly imagine–sexual in a passive aggressive and untrusting way, reliant upon the various technology which connects them as they flutter about the globe, competitive in seeking out the next juicy story. Nathan’s niche is medical debauchery, like those doctors who perform third rate surgeries in third world countries; Naomi has a regular relationship with a scandal magazine called Notorious. She surprises herself in how little journalistic integrity comes into play, when presented with art, with steady work, with an array of technological gadgets she spreads around herself like a modern human incubator.
Nathan finds himself reluctantly investigating Roiphe’s disease, an STD all but forgotten thanks to antibiotics, when he picks up a nasty case of Roiphe’s himself after a desperate romp with a dying subject. Naomi jets to Japan, to seek out Aristide Arosteguy, who may have just murdered his wife and cannibalized her corpse in their small French apartment before fleeing.
The two stories, of an STD and a mad cannibal, couldn’t seem further from each other but in Cronenberg-ian fashion they begin to intertwine, and everyone begins to lose it. Are Naomi and Nathan secretly working together? Or is there some sort of external force at work upon them? Could that external force involve a breast full of insects, hearing aids tuned into satellites, a North Korean propaganda campaign? Maybe it is impossible to write about Consumed without listing all its unusual elements, because as its impossible to explain how they all tie together by the end here, Cronenberg has built up a story full of nuanced and bizarre connections, unbelievably discovered around each turn.
In Cronenberg’s world, an all Apple-all-the-time-world, the zen of electronics, their cords and the safety of their lights reflecting back at us, the reassurance of their quick clicks or their silence when muted, brings us peace and makes so much sense; the electronic interfaces we rely on like a second brain are Naomi and Nathan’s only true companions. Consumed creates a Wild West-like human experience waiting for us beyond the computer screen, never pausing while we seek quick explanation from a Google search, full of raw and animal happenings, different types of consumption both wild and tame blurring into one uncontrollable, unbearable mess. Please, don’t try to read this book while eating.
- All Atwitter: ‘Consumed,’ by David Cronenberg (nytimes.com)
- David Cronenberg: ‘My imagination is not a place of horror’ (theguardian.com)
- David Cronenberg debuts creepy new novel: Consumed (cbc.ca)