Thursday 2 April 2015

Consumed - David Cronenberg's remarkable debut novel

By the end you have to concede that Consumed by David Cronenberg, is very much what you might associate with its author. For a start there is the ever present fascination with bodily function and fluid. Next, there is the fascination with the minutiae of the present - the brand names recited with exactitude as to model and function of all manner of consumer goods but especially those consumer goods, products and services which increase our proximity to each other, render things up close and personal, record the daily living activity, influence behavior and which may be used to produce shock and disgust.

The consumption recorded with relish in the book is not just of goods and services but most notably the left breast of a key protagonist, the philosopher queen Celestine Arosteguy. She is part of a philosophical power couple - emperor and empress of the Sorbonne and all they survey of French culture. They are sufficient grandees of their French cultural universe as to be invited, together, to be members of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival. There is no greater honour.

But darker forces are at work and the Arosteguys have formed an evil alliance with Kim Jong Un, childlike emperor of the Hermit Kingdom of North Korea. An elaborate plot has been hatched, part of which involves eating that severed left breast, and it is a world-wide conspiracy designed to assist the extension of the Juche Idea throughout the world. Very funny, but taken very seriously by its combatants. Into this plot stumble a couple of photo-journalists, massive consumers themselves of all things electronic, whose pursuit of two separate stories with medical implications, catapults them into the drama.

It is related in what might be called the late Cronenberg manner. The telling is ice-cold, the description of all that blood and body fluid, so deftly ordinary as to render it without any sense of horror at all. We are a long way from Shivers, way past Crash,  all the way in fact at Cosmopolis and Maps to the Stars. This venture may have started as a film project but Cronenberg may have decided that not even he, one of the modern masters, would stump up the cash to make a film involving half a dozen major actors and variously set in Toronto, Budapest, Tokyo, Paris and Pyongang. So he has now turned himself, possibly at just a simple stroke, into a most remarkable novelist.

Consumed, David Cronenberg, Fourth Estate, London, 2014, 284 pp

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