Consumed is clearly the work of David Cronenberg. The novel suggests a print fusion of the filmmaker’s early, grungy, bluntly metaphorical work with the subtler, formally refined, classical elder-statesman films of his most recent period—and the contrast of those sensibilities allows for occasionally quite effective shocks. The prose is chilly and erudite, suggestive of Nabokov and, particularly, of Ballard, which will resonant with fans of the director’s Crash. In the tradition of those authors, Cronenberg sweeps you up in the pure power of his aesthetic command, coaxing your guard down so as to spring perversities that eventually cast the entire book in unsettling hues of twisted inevitability. Cronenberg isn’t moonlighting; he’s a real novelist.
Naomi Seberg and Nathan Math—the names are clues—are 21st-century yellow journalists who thrive on the instability culture of YouTube, Twitter, and TMZ. Nathan, who has aspirations to write for medical publications, is given to justifying his more exploitive story choices; Naomi, though defensive about her lack of intellectual bona fides, more instinctively gets off on the kill of nailing a scoop. Both of them, it’s explicitly established, are married to the endless variety of phones, cameras, and recorders that Cronenberg details with an agency that’s at once enticingly sexual, banal, and actively off-putting. The author frequently attributes human characteristics to the journalists’ tools of the trade, while assigning mechanical attributes to the humans themselves; as in his films, he’s equally repulsed and aroused by innovation as a pathway toward evolution that paradoxically dehumanizes our species. In an early seductive passage, a woman’s struggle to look upon Nathan is described as a “process so electromechanical that it seemed photographic.” A subsequent sex scene is writ so metaphorical as to slyly, deceptively, outline eventual late-act revelations: