Forest Hill director puts down the camera to write his bold new novel
Renowned director David Cronenberg on why he put down the camera
to write his bold new novel
“For me, art isn’t comfortable. Comfort is for entertainment, not for art.”
When acclaimed and mildly gory filmmaker David Cronenberg was a young man, he wasn’t filming the gruesome life of flies in his childhood home. He didn’t go hunting for disfigurement with the hopes of catching some carnage on tape. All little Davey wanted to do was write books. His father was a writer, and the budding scribe remembers falling asleep to the sound of his dad’s IBM Selectric typewriter pecking out articles late at night in their Toronto home.
A novel is much more intimate, and you cannibalize your entire life.”
It might have taken him more than 50 years to accomplish his boyhood dream, but with the publication of his debut novel, Consumed, Cronenberg, the novelist, has finally arrived.
When he was 16 and a student at Harbord Collegiate, Cronenberg started writing short stories, and one in particular was greeted with some positive feedback.
“It was about a deformed little guy who lived in a basement and who had a painting that he sort of lived in on the wall,” Cronenberg explains, of the story he says deals with those who feel isolated from life and society. “It was painted by someone almost like him,” he adds. “Someone also in exile from society.”
But when he was 21, he decided to put his writing career aside after attending the University of Toronto and getting exposed to the world of film through his welldocumented association with future Hollywood heavy Ivan Reitman amongst others.
And, you know, he’s done fairly well, over the past 50 years, making 21 feature films, including such notable titles as A History of Violence, A Dangerous Method, Crash and the upcoming Map to the Stars, on his way to becoming one of the most revered and popular filmmakers in the country.
Cronenberg, 71, decided to return to writing eight years ago after some encouragement from a friend at Penguin Books, which would eventually publish
Consumed under their Hamish Hamilton imprint. The novel picks up on many themes that Cronenberg explores in his films on the way to establishing his own unique genre — body horror.
In the novel, journalists and lovers Naomi Seberg and Nathan Math pursue seemingly distinct stories around the globe that deal with technology, philosophy, disease, medicine, fetishism and a light sprinkling of cannibalism before the plot lines converge in a most unique and graphic fashion.
The question the novel asks is, simply put: what is reality? From the first line, Cronenberg questions the accuracy of what we perceive. Things change throughout and, quite fittingly, the book doesn’t end with a neat and tidy bow tied around the plot line. In the end, the reader is left with a profound sense of unease.
“In many ways it could have been ended in a specific way,” he says. “But the novel is about what reality is, and can we have any absolute knowledge? You do get the sense that reality is very much neurology. If you’re sitting with a dog at your feet in the same room the reality for each creative is totally different. The dog’s sense of hearing, smell, lack of language are a completely different reality but no less than human reality. Reality is built into the book. Right from the beginning you have to question everything: what is real, who is doing what. There are many ways an incident can be caused, depends on how you look at it.”
Although there is some shocking imagery in the book (yes, a female breast might have been consumed at some point), Cronenberg doesn’t consider himself a shock artist. He merely has some unique proclivities when it comes to art.
“All art aspires to is to explore different and perhaps not common ways of perceiving things,” he explains. “Then we enhance our understanding of what it is to be human and exist as a creative in this world…. I’m not a shock artist, nor do I think that you must shock people. As an artist, you want to offer a different set of perspectives that most people don’t have, and you’re sharing them with your audience even as you are exploring them yourself.”
Cronenberg lives in the Forest Hill area of Toronto and has for quite some time. He makes a habit of going for walks around the upscale ’hood in the evenings, and it is in that particular leafy nook where he places the very creepy Dr. Rolphe, famous for having a sexually transmitted disease named after him. The doctor is studying his own daughter and her habit of eating small bits of her own skin. Ahem.
“That was a very interesting thing about writing a novel as compared with a screenplay,” he says. “A novel is much more intimate, and you cannibalize your entire life, the life of my friends and family and anyone you ever read or heard about.”
Although it took him a while to finish his first novel, Cronenberg is keen to return to writing as soon as possible.
“I’d love to have the experience of just writing a novel [without interruption for film projects], just to see what it would feel like,” he explains. “At the moment, I’m closer to writing another novel than another film, and unless a movie project is incredibly seductive and special, I won’t do it.”
But will Consumed, and its cannibalism, sexual fetishes and mind-boggling plot twists make its way onto the big screen in the future?
“I have the rights,” says Cronenberg, who indicates he won’t make the film himself but would be fine with others doing so. “And I’m willing to sell them to you.”
Cronenberg’s novel involves cannibalism, sexual fetishes and mind-boggling plot twists