David Cronenberg puts fantasies in hardcover with...
|
Bookmark and Share
Sep 27, 2014  |  Vote 0    0

David Cronenberg puts fantasies in hardcover with release of first novel Consumed

Consumed is coming to the book market this week

OurWindsor.Ca

Two new Canadian stories are on the market this coming week.

One deals bluntly with murder, dismemberment, cannibalism, kinky sex and horrific diseases. The other is an elegant Henry James-ian study of a naive young North American couple who collide with an older, sophisticated European duo.

Which one did David Cronenberg write? The first, you’d answer without a moment’s hesitation, but you’d be only partly right.

Both stories are in one book, called Consumed (Penguin Canada). It’s Cronenberg’s first novel and, yes, he is the author of every single word.

That’s one surprise, to be sure, but the other is finding one of Canada (if not the world’s) most renowned contemporary filmmakers bypassing his usual celluloid route to put his bizarre fantasies between hard covers.

“Well, actually, I’ve been thinking of writing a novel for 50 years,” he says, sitting and smiling in a hotel suite as coldly elegant as the gynecologist’s office in one of his most frightening films, Dead Ringers (1988).

“You see, I came by it honestly,” says the 71-year-old filmmaker, looking tall and slim and only slightly intimidating. “Nobody in Toronto had access to film when I was a young man. Not like L.A. where the Spielbergs of the world had their hands on cameras and were making their first movies in their early 20s.

“My father was a writer for the Toronto Telegram. I used to fall asleep to the sound of his typewriters, first an Underwood, then an IBM Selectric. He was a gadget freak so he had one of the first electric typewriters in town. So I always thought I would have published my first novel by the age of 21.”

So what happened to David Cronenberg, novelist of promise?

He grins at the memory. “I submitted my first story to Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine, which I read every month. And in return, I got a little handwritten note, which said, ‘This came quite close. Be glad to see more.’

“Yes, it was a rejection, but the best kind of rejection you could get. Yet somehow, I never did send them anymore.”

His reason was simple. “I like to say that I got kidnapped by cinema and only recently released.”

His first film was a short called Transfer, which he made at the age of 23, and his two dozen movies since then have run the gamut from lurid horror (Rabid), through science fiction (The Fly), into disturbing psychological studies (Spider) and finally into contemporary socio-political observations, like his latest, Maps to the Stars, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year and opens in Canada later in October.

In almost all of them, there are recurring themes, like the pairing of sex and death, even when the symbiosis seems odd. That duo is at the heart of Consumed.

“Why do I concern myself so much with sex and death? It’s all a question of coming to terms with mortality. It’s not a new theme, but it’s an enduring one. Sex is the only way we have of keeping death at bay.

“In all species, there is always a resurgence in sexual activity as death comes near. Some say it’s because if the species is threatened you must reproduce as quickly as you can. Yes, I know that long ago most humans have disconnected sex from reproduction so that the direct connection is no longer there, but there’s still a life-affirming quality about sex that continues and endures.”

One of the heroes of Consumed, a young medical photojournalist named Nathan, becomes sexually involved with a woman suffering from a bizarre form of cancer whose complex surgery he is cataloguing in his photos, but Cronenberg finds nothing strange in that at all.

“Death in itself can become a sexual attraction. The sense of decay as something that you connect with or accept. It makes you feel you are somehow controlling it.

“For most ‘normal’ people, there’s a natural revulsion about having sex with someone diseased. But for other people, it’s a challenge or an attraction, or even an compulsion.”

In some of Cronenberg’s earliest films, like 1975’s Shivers, where loathsome parasites enter people through their genitals and cause unspeakable sexual desire, his excesses were dismissed as sheer horror-mongering, but even today, nearly 40 years later, he defends his choices.

“I wasn’t like directors like John Landis or John Carpenter, indulging my love of old horror movies and seeing how far I could go. Even back then, I always took it seriously. It was a venue for emotional and philosophical exploration.”

Cronenberg is intrigued by the freedom generated today by the Internet with its bloggers and diarists. “Nowadays, everyone is very confessional in their writing. Anything that happens to your body is a legitimate topic to be followed, to be explored, to be discussed. I just take it to a stranger place than you might expect.”

Indeed, when one character in Consumed comes down with a rare sexually transmitted infection, he tracks down the medical figure after whom it is named in an attempt to get to the source of his disease.

When asked how personal a work like Consumed is, Cronenberg quotes Rick Moody, the author of the novel The Ice Storm, later turned into a movie. “All movies are in the third person and all novels are in the first person. There’s a huge truth in that.

“But shocking people was never a priority with me at all. Shocking myself was the priority. Or going into corners that were darker than people had ever gone into before and making connections.

“You see, when people talk about being shocked, they really only mean the human body. I refuse to be shocked by it or anything involved with it. That is the first fact of human existence. I don’t believe in an after life, so my focus is always on the human body as it exists now.”

But is there anything that David Cronenberg would personally find impossible to accept or comprehend?

“I actually think murdering a human being is a huge crime, because a human being is an entire universe and to destroy that is doing far more than just blotting out the life of a solitary creature.

“I know it’s done all over the world all the time to millions of people but, especially when it’s done in the name of religion, I find that unthinkable.”

But the future still awaits, with more films and hopefully more novels from Cronenberg. And he serves us fair warning about what to expect.

“Just know this: there’s no door that I would close to myself.”

Toronto Star

|
Bookmark and Share

(0) Comment

Join The Conversation Sign Up Login

In Your Neighbourhood Today

SPONSORED CONTENT View More