My rating: 4 of 5 stars
David Cronenberg’s debut novel, Consumed, follows political and cultural intrigues much like Sacred Games, but on a smaller (but no less denser) scale. The story originally focuses on Nathan Math & Naomi Seberg & the extreme stories that they chase in hopes of turning into accessible new media-worthy “journalism”. Naomi is obsessed with getting to the bottom of the grisly murder of a beloved French philosopher, Célestine Arosteguy & what part her husband, Aristide Arosteguy, may have played in her death. Nathan, a medical student turned journalist, hunts down an unlicensed Hungarian surgeon who performs illegal surgeries as a political act. Naomi & Nathan’s respective assignments converge in unexpected ways & they unwittingly begin to uncover a conspiracy that spans not only multiple continents, but touches on multiple fields of thought.
As an English major, I saw many influences present in Cronenberg’s writing. The work is undeniably Nabakovian with its many doubles, the ardent pursuit of an ephemeral idea (or illusion) & the manipulations/traumas of language. I found one character, Hervé, remarkably similar to Iris Murdoch’s Trickster characters, who thrive on sensuality, chaos & the drive to instigate, well, everything. Aristide’s example of eating a rose recalled one of David Foster Wallace’s major symbols in “Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way.” But for all of these literary allusions, the story is undeniable Cronenberg’s, reflecting his own obsessions with hermetic societies, the lifespan and transformative powers of disease, and of course, body horror and all the taboos it uncovers.
Consumed was a fascinating book that entangled me. In fact, I felt the same way I did after watching one of Cronenberg’s films–enjoyed it but felt overwhelmed by everything lurking under the surface. I was pleasantly surprised that much of the physical violence and horror did not effect me as much as I feared. I was someone who passed out while reading Palahnuik’s Haunted but in Consumed, each physical act was so encoded in ideas & symbolism that I was continually trying to grasp what exactly was happening. (The book did give me some weird vivid dreams though.) Recommended to anyone who is looking for new, intense fiction or, more specifically, to anyone who enjoys Cronenberg’s films or was disappointed by what last year’s Night Film tried to, but couldn’t, pull off.