By David Cronenberg; Narrated by William Hurt
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Publication Date: 30 September 2014
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours, 50 minutes
Themes: / body horror / technofear / medical / sex / conspiracy /
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.
“Let me unbox you…”
This is a novel best suited to two audiences: those looking for innovative horror, and people interested in visionary possibilities of new media. It would also be good for fans of first-time novelist David Cronenberg’s work in film, but I suspect they’d fall into the first two categories.
(I fall into all three, being a lifelong Cronenberg fan since I first saw the mad genius of Videodrome.)
Consumed is, as one might expect from the author, a challenging and strange book. I can describe the plot like this: two journalists investigate a Parisian crime, wherein a husband killed and ate part of his wife. The (former) couple were influential philosophers, Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, and a cute parody of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They made waves with a theory of consumer society (hence one meaning of the title). Naomi and Nathan are lovers and colleagues, fellow gadget hounds, but they usually live apart, and follow their joint inquiry along separate, parallel lines.
What follows is a picaresque or road trip, as the two N’s travel the world: Paris, Japan, Canada, Hungary, Cannes, Holland. Cronenberg teasingly refuses to give us much local color, offering instead the thin, usually tech-mediated views of our protagonists, or sketches of the people they meet.
So much for the plot’s initial action. But I’d also need to tell you more about the book’s style. Consumed adores its surfaces and fetishes. It lovingly describes clothing, technologies, record covers (oh yes), body parts, and interior decorating exactly as far as major characters obsess over them. Technology looms large; this is very much a novel about modern digital devices and how we intimately use them.
Consumed is also about pushing against discussing awkward or awful topics, mostly in a horrific way. Without spoilering too much, I can mention offhandedly cannibalism, murder, autocannibalism, apotemnophilia, acrotomophilia, deformed body parts, sexually transmitted diseases, cancerous body parts, and medical fetishism. Which brings us back to Cronenberg’s tone. He doesn’t revel in these topics, but comes to them thoughtfully, from a character’s mind, almost (and sometimes literally) clinically.
In a sense Consumed is an update of Videodrome, a deep dive into our current media obsessions and how they warp (and delight) ourselves. “Naomi was in the screen” is how it begins. In a sense this is about limitation, especially by the end. Yet Cronenberg isn’t simply a techno-skeptic, at least not in the text; he’s too fond of devices and their powers. He sees their depths, and shares them with us through his well-informed, perverse vision.
It’s also a horror novel by any stretch of the term. There’s body horror, dread, suspense, and even a touch of something deeper by the end.
It is also funny, although not everyone laughs with me. There are running gags, like many characters’ obsession with landing a New Yorker story, or in Naomi and Nathan’s banter, or nearly everything the bad Hungarian surgeon says.
I’d recommend this to the audiences mentioned above.
William Hurt does a terrific job with the audiobook overall, handling a wide range of accents. He seems especially at home with Aristide Arosteguy’s voice. Early on Hurt inserts odd, non-Shatnerian pauses into sentences that disconcert, but this ceases by the middle of the book. It’s a pleasure to listen to.
Posted by Bryan A.