Review: Consumed, by David Cronenberg


About Consumed

The exhilarating debut novel by iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg: the story of two journalists whose entanglement in a French philosopher’s death becomes a surreal journey into global conspiracy.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.These parallel narratives become entwined in a gripping, dreamlike plot that involves geopolitics, 3-D printing, North Korea, the Cannes Film Festival, cancer, and, in an incredible number of varieties, sex. Consumed is an exuberant, provocative debut novel from one of the world’s leading film directors.

About the Author

David Cronenberg is a Canadian filmmaker whose career has spanned more than four decades. Born in Toronto, Canada, Cronenberg was inducted onto Canada’s Walk of Fame in 1999. In 2002, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 2006 he was awarded the Cannes Film Festival’s lifetime achievement award, the Carrosse d’Or; he is also an Officer in France’s Order of Arts and Letters (1990), and a Chevalier in its Legion of Honor (2009). Cronenberg’s many feature films include Stereo, Crimes of the Future, Fast Company, The Brood, The Dead Zone, The Fly, Naked Lunch, M. Butterfly, Crash, A History of Violence, and A Dangerous Method. His most recent film, Cosmopolis, starred Robert Pattinson and was an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s 2003 novel. Consumed is his first novel.

My Thoughts

 (This review is based on an advanced review copy obtained through NetGalley.)
I'll preface this review with a small word of caution: I am not nearly as up-to-snuff on Cronenberg's film work as I should be. The man is a heralded director, yet, sadly, I've only seen a few of his films. Most of his best-known and most well-regarded films, such as The Fly, Scanners, and Videodrome came out well before I was of-age to watch them and I've yet to actively seek them out for viewing. I have seen and absolutely love The Dead Zone, and A History of Violence and Eastern Promises are up there, too. Those two latter films, however, are among his more mainstream efforts and did little to prepare me for the darker, more psychologically and physically horrifying nature of Cronenberg's storytelling oeuvre as he makes his literary debut.

According to IMDB, Cronenberg is known as the King of Venereal Horror, or body horror, which usually involves the destruction of the body. Both The Fly and Videodrome are celebrated classics of this horror subgenre, along with John Carpenter's The Thing. It is this genre that Cronenberg gravitates toward with his novel, Consumed (as well as the 9-minute short film The Nest, which was released at the end of June as a bit of a prequel/teaser to this novel).

Assembled here is a hodgepodge of philosophy, psychopathy, cannibalism, self-mutilation, and physical disfigurements. The book covers the gamut, from sexual promiscuity and STDs, to Peyronie's Disease and apotemnophilia, and wraps it all in a puzzle-box that's equal parts riddle and Chinese finger trap. Consumed is an erotic thriller that revels in its utter lack of sexiness and obscure fetishes before devolving into a roughly hewn conspiracy.

Beginning with the discovery of the murder and cannibalization of Célestine Arosteguy readers are taken on a multi-layered mystery that ties Naomi's search for the missing Aristide Arosteguy into the secondary narrative thread surrounding her sometimes lover Nathan, as he becomes embroiled with the Riophe's after catching a rare STD.

The story that unfolds then becomes a cross-country narrative filled with narcissists, sexual libertines, and the mentally unhinged. Unfortunately, while Cronenberg's storytelling skills are top-notch and he's crafted an absorbing and compelling page-turner, the result is unbalanced. Persistently interesting and uncountably strange, the final turns of the premise upon which it all hangs feels terribly disconnected and fruitless.

Ultimately, it's a story of nothing more than pure voyeurism. Both Naomi and Nathan are photojournalists, and their affection for technology borders on the obscene, with photographic minutiae, like ISO settings and Speedlight specs, a fetishistic obsession. They see the world through a lens, their perspective and views limited to only what resides opposite the thick black bodies of their DSLR Nikon cameras and iPhones. It's a limitation that carries over to the dual narratives, as we only ever see things through their dual viewpoints, with rare exceptions, and their depths of field come armed with armchair pop psychology.

Consumed is a challenging read, one that requires full investment, but which offers little in return. Closure is as hard to find, and absolute answers as rare, as Riophe's STD. The ending offers only more questions and concerns, and, as a climax, packs little in the way of power. It's a twisted, bent tale, the narrative itself a version of Peyronie's Disease, and manages to be both obliquely satisfying yet intensely empty.

While I found myself dissatisfied, I can't help but think that I'll be examining the structure and roles of this story and its characters as time goes on, and I can't help but think that the disturbing nature of the work as a whole has left a bit of a mark in me. I suspect Consumed will gain a cult following amongst Cronenberg purists, but personal satisfaction in the story may depend on your familiarity and enjoyment of the author's filmic narratives.

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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