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Consumed (2014)

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Unplanned Obsolescence

A master class in apophenia, David Cronenberg’s first novel is, to adapt François Truffaut, a roman malade. This only would qualify it as a true offspring of the Canadian master; it’s still whobbling quite a lot. Its best part is a lenghty and delightful narrative from its reluctant hero about how he embraced his wife’s psychosis and participated in her masectomy. It’s loving and chilling in equal parts, and one can’t help wishing this specific point of view had been the focus of the book.

Instead, we are acquainted to cross-stared lovers Naomi and Nathan, marginally in love but mostly co-dependant and addicted to technology. Geeks, this is a novel for you, crammed with detailed tech-porn while the actual porn is glossed over. A bit like William Gibson, but far more deranging and much less tidy (Pattern Recognition, anyone?).

Jumping for some reason from Budapest to Paris to Toronto to Cannes to Tokyo then Pyong Yang, Consumed has its fair share of body horror, from alleged cannibalism to self-mutilation to bizarre dick shape. It is very good at inventing syndroms and diseases, which does not come as a surprise from Cronenberg.

It also takes – legitimately – all the liberty that a novel allows compared to a movie, from broadly pictured exotic locations to independant journalist characters gifted with very deep pockets (when in Paris, Naomi stays at the Crillon, because she likes the rusted decay of her roof view a lot).

Cronenberg declared in interviews that he was not aiming at adapting Consumed for the big screen. It is too bad, because financial logic would have forced him to let go of most of the travelling and concentrate the movie in France, or Canada. It would also have led him get rid of his fetish for high tech gadgetry, something he kept ay bay on the screen but takes an awful lot of space here. The 3D printer is a great idea, but who cares about digital camera optics that much? One gets the idea of planned technological obsolescence and its consumerist background by page 20. Still being lectured about it on page 200 is a tad annoying.

The Cannes episode is scrumptious. The starting point is as infamous as possible. The Budapest and Tokyo segments could take place anywhere else. Naomi is kind of a bitch and Nathan quite a moron. The most compelling character is Celestine, and she’s only reminisced, or investigated, by other, less developped characters.

The book does not end, it pauses, leaving the reader wondering what really happened in North Korea. Are the insects real? What the hell will happen to Naomi and Nathan? Not that one cares too much, happy for the ride as he is. But frankly, Mr Cronenberg, that’s a lot of build up before you lost interest and kinda quit. Witnessing the connection of so many random threads was thrilling, but watching most of the balls falling from the juggler’s hands is a letdown.

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