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Consumed by David Cronenberg

Stylish and camera-obsessed, Naomi and Nathan thrive on the yellow journalism of the social-media age. They are lovers and competitors—nomadic freelancers in pursuit of sensation and depravity, encountering each other only in airport hotels and browser windows.

Naomi finds herself drawn to the headlines surrounding Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, Marxist philosophers and sexual libertines. Célestine has been found dead and mutilated in her Paris apartment. Aristide has disappeared. Police suspect him of killing her and consuming parts of her body. With the help of an eccentric graduate student named Hervé Blomqvist, Naomi sets off in pursuit of Aristide. As she delves deeper into Célestine and Aristide’s lives, disturbing details emerge about their sex life—which included trysts with Hervé and others. Can Naomi trust Hervé to help her?

Nathan, meanwhile, is in Budapest photographing the controversial work of an unlicensed surgeon named Zoltán Molnár, once sought by Interpol for organ trafficking. After sleeping with one of Molnár’s patients, Nathan contracts a rare STD called Roiphe’s. Nathan then travels to Toronto, determined to meet the man who discovered the syndrome. Dr. Barry Roiphe, Nathan learns, now studies his own adult daughter, whose bizarre behavior masks a devastating secret.

David Cronenberg’s creative bona fides are well established. The idiosyncratic auteur has been crafting his unique visions of the world in film since the sixties. I’ve been interested in his work since I first saw Videodrome and Scanners, but it was Dead Ringers that really managed to freak me out. There are so few directors out there who can create something that genuinely disturbs; Cronenberg is undoubtedly one of them. When I discovered he was releasing a novel, I was interested and concerned in equal measure. I knew I would want to read it, but I also knew there was a good chance that it was going to mess with my head. Turns out I was right on both counts.

Naomi and Nathan seem adrift in their own lives. Both are obsessed with cameras and technology, and their respective careers mean they can spend much of their time observing rather than taking part. It feels like the perfect way to avoid anything like a proper relationship, always managing to be one step removed from events. They are constantly on the move and only meet one another in passing. There is an almost a voyeuristic quality to their work, and this bleeds into their personal lives as well.

Cronenberg’s slightly skewed world-view translates well to the page. The writing certainly displays that visual quality that I’ve come to expect with his work. Fans of Cronenberg’s early horror are bound to enjoy this foray into the written word. The narrative explores a whole host of differing themes. The only thing they have in common? They all lend themselves to promoting introspection in the reader. Everything from rampant consumerism, Marxism, societal taboos, cannibalism, sexual politics and body dysmorphic disorder are involved in the plot.

Now, in an effort to be entirely honest, I’ll admit that there were moments where some of the narrative was lost on me. Cronenberg is obviously a smart cookie, and he is keen to share his opinions on just about every topic you could imagine. Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, the philosophers who are the subjects of Naomi’s latest article, are more than a little verbose. I felt their conversations were often taking part somewhere way above my head. That said I’m sure readers who are better versed in the subtleties of Marxist theory and North Korea’s current place on the world stage while not suffer the same problems.

The book also ends in a rather abrupt fashion. Initially I was annoyed by this move, but I realise now, as I am still thinking about it, that having some questions left unanswered is probably the whole point of the piece.  The author wants to make his readers think about the points he is raising. I remember an interview years ago, I think it was with Clive Barker, where someone asked the question – What is it that horrifies you? Barker’s suitably disturbing response – the banality of the human condition. Consumed explores so many different aspects of what it means to exist, trying to provide some inkling of just who and what humankind is as a society. Like Barker, I suspect Cronenberg is projecting his own fears into his work. It’s as though the writer is terrified of the thought that a question could remain unasked, never mind unanswered.

Part murder mystery, part character study, part psychological horror, the line blurs between the genres the further into the book you delve. Like its celluloid predecessors this is fiction chock full of social commentary. Ultimately, I suppose David Cronenberg is creative marmite. Some will love his work, buy into it, and be changed by the experience. Others will read the novel and probably hate every single page with a vitriolic passion. I’m sure, if nothing else, this book will prompt debate. Personally I enjoyed it, even with the issues I’ve mentioned above, it made me think and that’s exactly what good fiction should do. Consumed demands your attention, and that you engage the old grey cells as part of the journey. You need to keep your wits about you so you can figure out just exactly what is going on. Provocative and at times deliberately challenging, Cronenberg’s fiction debut is a uniquely personal vision of the world.

Consumed is published by Fourth Estate and is available from 9th October.

Consumed


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