ConsumedConsumed by David Cronenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The ongoing controversy about The Interview reminded me of the running gag in David Cronenberg’s first novel about ‘Kimunism’ and the The Judicious Use of Insects. This fictitious movie causes controversy and upheaval at Cannes, as it is supported by France’s most intellectually daring philosopher couple, who are sympathetic towards the North Korean dictatorship (Cronenberg mentions the scandal of Gerard Depardieu renouncing his French citizenship and being personally awarded a Russian passport by Vladimir Putin).

The book opens with the death of the wife, killed and cannibalised by her husband, who is hiding out in Japan as a result. Cronenberg refers to the bizarre case of Issei Sagawa, who murdered and cannabilised a fellow Dutch student at the Sorbonne in 1981. A French judge declared Sagawa to be mentally insane, whereupon he was extradited to Japan, becoming a minor celebrity and even writing restaurant reviews.

What this means is that a lot of the more outlandish plot elements here are, in actual fact, refractions of real events, which adds another dimension to Cronenberg’s theme of the fusion of entertainment, media, technology and politics. We see the story through the eyes of yet another couple, two journalists, whose obsession with the latest gadgets is almost a fetish.

Cronenberg’s experience as a filmmaker allows him to riff authoritatively on the latest camera and recording technology: “…he consumed her body with that lens (the awkwardly named Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED).” There is a very funny scene where Naomi demonstrates the photographic potential of the newest iPhone by taking pictures of Nathan’s erect penis.

Indeed, much of the novel is blackly and bleakly funny, taking in its stride everything from acrotomophilia (a sexual attraction to amputees) to the fictitious Roiphe’s Disease, which Nathan contracts after having sex with a radical surgery patient, to the Worldwide Genital Mutilation Conference, 3D printing as a medical tool and ‘philosospasms’ (Naomi and Nathan’s pet term for their digressive interests).

The discussion of ‘insect politics’ and the ingestion of insects for both religious and nutritive value reminds us, of course, of Cronenberg’s own movies The Fly and his adaptation of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. Indeed, Consumed is very much a love letter to long-term Cronenberg fans, running a sustained trajectory from the ‘body horror’ of his early work to his later interest in identity and gender.

Cronenberg’s writing reflects the dispassioned, steely intelligence of his movies. It is rather fitting that Consumed is a genre hybrid, straddling horror, science fiction and satire. Cronenberg writes with such confidence and insight that it is difficult to imagine this is his first novel. Of course, the attention to detail is very much a result of his director’s eye.

What I found fascinating is how the novel format allows Cronenberg to expand upon his ideas in a much more radical way than he is able to do in his movies – to the extent that a movie based upon Consumed would be almost impossible to make in the current socio-political climate. We do not want to upset the Boy King of North Korea, now do we.

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