"Let me unbox you..." -Aristide Arosteguy
This is a novel best suited to two audiences: those looking for innovative horror, and people interested in visionary possibilities of new media. It would also be good for fans of first-time novelist David Cronenberg's work in film, but I suspect they'd fall into the first two categories.
(I fall into all three, being a lifelong Cronenberg fan since I first saw the mad genius of Videodrome.)
Consumed is, as one might expect from the author, a challenging and strange book. I can describe the plot like this: two journalists investigate a Parisian crime, wherein a husband killed and ate part of his wife. The (former) couple were influential philosophers, Célestine and Aristide Arosteguy, and a cute parody of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They made waves with a theory of consumer society (hence one meaning of the title). Naomi and Nathan are lovers and colleagues, fellow gadget hounds, but they usually live apart, and follow their joint inquiry along separate, parallel lines.
What follows is a picaresque or road trip, as the two N's travel the world: Paris, Japan, Canada, Hungary, Cannes, Holland. Cronenberg teasingly refuses to give us much local color, offering instead the thin, usually tech-mediated views of our protagonists, or sketches of the people they meet.
So much for the plot's initial action. But I'd also need to tell you more about the book's style. Consumed adores its surfaces and fetishes. It lovingly describes clothing, technologies, record covers (oh yes), body parts, and interior decorating exactly as far as major characters obsess over them. Technology looms large; this is very much a novel about modern digital devices and how we intimately use them.
Consumed is also about pushing against discussing awkward or awful topics, mostly in a horrific way. Without spoilering too much, I can mention offhandedly cannibalism, murder, autocannibalism, apotemnophilia, acrotomophilia, deformed body parts, sexually transmitted diseases, cancerous body parts, and medical fetishism. Which brings us back to Cronenberg's tone. He doesn't revel in these topics, but comes to them thoughtfully, from a character's mind, almost (and sometimes literally) clinically.
Back to the plot, and now I must hide some words after the cut:
In a sense Consumed is an update of Videodrome, a deep dive into our current media obsessions and how they warp (and delight) ourselves. "Naomi was in the screen" is how it begins. In a sense this is about limitation, especially by the end. Yet Cronenberg isn't simply a techno-skeptic, at least not in the text; he's too fond of devices and their powers. He sees their depths, and shares them with us through his well-informed, perverse vision.
It's also a horror novel by any stretch of the term. There's body horror, dread, suspense, and even a touch of something deeper by the end.
It is also funny, although not everyone laughs with me. There are running gags, like many characters' obsession with landing a New Yorker story, or in Naomi and Nathan's banter, or nearly everything the bad Hungarian surgeon says.
I'd recommend this to the audiences mentioned above.
NB: I didn't read Consumed, but listened to it as audiobook. William Hurt does a terrific job overall, handling a wide range of accents. He seems especially at home with Aristide Arosteguy's voice. Early on Hurt inserts odd, non-Shatnerian pauses into sentences that disconcert, but this ceases by the middle of the book. It's a pleasure to listen to.