Consumed by David Cronenberg: Review
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Sep 27, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

Consumed by David Cronenberg: Review

Cronenberg the writer ends up devouring Cronenberg the director in Consumed, the Toronto filmmaker’s curious first novel. This may have been the intended result

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Murder most weird rears its severed head right from the start of Consumed, the debut novel by Toronto filmmaker David Cronenberg.

The dismembered body of noted French philosopher Célestine Arosteguy, 62, has been found in the Paris apartment she shares with her husband Aristide, also a philosopher, who has left the building and, reportedly, the country. He didn’t leave hungry, les gendarmes presume.

“Sources wishing to remain unnamed have told us there is evidence to suggest that parts of Célestine Arosteguy’s body were cooked on her own stove and eaten,” a newscast reports.

Oho! How very Cronenbergian, except there’s more than meets the bloodshot eye. Consumed is a curious read not so much for what it says about Cronenberg’s present and future as an author but what it draws from his past as a shock filmmaker, a past he supposedly abandoned for more cerebral cinematic pursuits.

With its heavy emphasis on body horror, kinky sex and perverse pursuits, the novel hearkens back to Cronenberg’s earliest days of celluloid creation, when he wore the media-bestowed label of goremeister.

In such films as Shivers and Rabid from the 1970s, Videodrome, The Fly and Dead Ringers from the ’80s and Naked Lunch, Crash and eXistenZ from the ’90s, Cronenberg fixed his gaze at the collision of desire, disease and decay, often in reference to how man relates to machines.

Since the heavily allegorical Spider in 2002, he’s been moving toward adventures of the mind rather than the body — although in fairness to Cronenberg, that’s a distinction made by journalists that he doesn’t fully agree with.

In any event, Consumed finds him giddily embracing corporeal horror, but making less impact on the printed page than on the big screen. The prophetic connections he made between real and virtual existence in Videodrome (“Long live the new flesh!”) and eXistenZ seem redundant and reductive here.

The first half of the book rollicks along, as the quest to unravel the mystery of Célestine’s murder follows multiple narratives in cities across the globe.

We meet Naomi and Nathan, technophiles and erstwhile lovers, adept at social media and Google probing, more aroused by a new camera lens or Apple MacBook than human enticement — although sex comes easily to them, as it does for most characters in Consumed.

They work as freelance journalists in search of sensational stories to sell to the highest/most respected bidder (The New Yorker is their Holy Grail). The cannibalism of the Arosteguy case is fresh meat for them, but only for Naomi at first.

While she tracks clues that suggest Célestine’s murder was part of a grander pathology, a path that will take lead her to Tokyo and serious danger, Nathan heads to Budapest to photograph the illicit surgical work of Zoltán Molnár, who was once believed by police to be involved in organ trafficking.

An eye-rolling (and stomach-churning) turn of events has Nathan acquiring an exotic STD that sends him to the Toronto doctor whom the disease is named after, Dr. Barry Roiphe. The doc has an adult daughter, Chase, whose bizarre eating habits speak to a seriously screwed-up past. In due course, we shall learn how fate and coincidence intertwine.

So far, so diverting, but Cronenberg seems to lose interest in storytelling basics halfway through Consumed. He trudges us through the quicksand of a subplot in which a woman, convinced her left breast is infested by insects, searches for a surgeon who will hack it off.

Cronenberg’s tortured account of this horrific quest leads to tangential discussions of jury voting at the Cannes Film Festival (Cronenberg once led a Cannes jury), North Korean politics, 3D printing, Sailor Moon and other pop-cult inquiries.

His descriptions of Apple products become the numbing prose of an instruction manual written by someone whose first language isn’t English. This is deliberate (we hope), as early on someone observes “the only authentic literature of the modern era is the owner’s manual.”

Cronenberg the writer ends up consuming Cronenberg the director, which may have been the intended result. If that sounds tasty, then bon appétit.

Toronto Star

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