In David Cronenberg’s impossible to summarise debut novel, we follow the bizarre misadventures of a pair of journalist lovers on the trail of a French philosopher who murdered and ate his wife.
Ha, you say! That was not impossible to summarise at all! You did it with admirable brevity and succinctness! Well done, you say. Well done.
Incorrect, my friends.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the convolutions of the plot, which also involves global conspiracies, mutant strains of STDs, mad doctors performing unlicensed surgeries and crooked penises.
And there’s the problem with reviewing this book. How to talk about the most Cronenbergian plot ever conceived, without falling back on referring to it as Cronenbergian. Well, I’ve already failed at that, so let’s just move on with our lives, shall we?
Cronenberg has determinedly forged his own path over the course of his cinematic career, starting off by pretty much creating, and then refining, the ‘body horror’ sub-genre. Never one to shy away from three of things that make art great – sex, violence and philosophy – he has reportedly had trouble securing finances for his films recently. Well, can you imagine something like Videodrome, in which James Woods and Debbie Harry investigate a mind-controlling snuff-movie tv station, being made by a major studio these days? I can imagine the studio notes.
‘Okay Mr Cronenberg, can we perhaps lose the reveal of the ornate dildo? And maybe the bit where Debbie Harry puts out a cigarette on her breast? And the vagina that opens in James Woods’ chest – can we just give him a backpack instead?’
Luckily, Consumed is Cronenberg freed from all constraints, budgetary or intellectual. It’s not an easy read, and not just due to the sometimes disturbing subject matter. It’s densely packed with technical jargon and details of every recording device used, in keeping with the book’s theme of Consumerism as the new philosophy. Every camera seems to get its own paragraph. For the first time in about 5 years, my photography degree actually came in handy. I knew those years spent at uni would pay off eventually!
It’s easier to think of the book in relation to Cronenberg’s filmography. It takes the raw energy and frank sexuality of his earlier work, but tells the tale in a, dare I say it, more thoughtful and mature way. Think Shivers or Rabid crossed with Crash. What they all have in common with Consumed is their focus on seemingly aberrant sexuality as something to be admired, or at least understood, whether it be on an intellectual, philosophical level, or something more primal.
A great companion piece to Consumed would be the book Cronenberg on Cronenberg, published by Faber & Faber, in which the director really lays out his philosophy on life, death and disease through a series of lengthy interviews. Without that background knowledge, the uninitiated may be well find themselves reeling at, say, the leads attraction to the girl who eats pieces of her skin with the aid of nail clippers. But for the rest of us, reading this book is like welcoming an old friend round for dinner.
Welcome back, Dave. We’ve missed you, you great big Canadian weirdo.
WHAT BORIS THOUGHT: Boris spent a good deal of time sniffing the book, before ultimately deciding to leave it alone and go and do something else. Boris has never been much of an ideas man, though. I think he’s ruled by his heart and stomach (mostly stomach) rather than his head.
OVERALL: 5 paws out of 5
THIS EDITION: Fourth Estate, 2015