In September, filmmaker David Cronenberg’s debut novel Consumed will be published by Penguin in Canada, and Scribner in the U.S, as well as several other territories. Those familiar with Cronenberg’s films such as The Fly, Dead Ringers, and Crash, will not be surprised to learn that the title is not entirely metaphorical. The book begins with the alleged murder and consumption of French intellectual Célestine Arosteguy by her philosopher/author husband, and like many of his films, focuses on dark places in the psyche and society as it follows a young journalist so obsessed with the couple’s story that she becomes entangled in it even as it intersects with her own lover’s obsessions. PW’s review observed that the young characters’ “descent into bizarre depravity is fascinating, even darkly humorous,” and predicted that “readers will find it nearly impossible to look at away from the grotesque spectacle.”
This week, PW talks with Nicole Winstanley, Penguin Canada’s president and publisher and the Canadian editor of the book, about wooing a famous Hollywood director and editing his work.
Many fans of David Cronenberg's films will be wondering why he decided to shift mediums to publish a novel. We understand you played a part in that decision. How did it all happen?
I always thought that David’s provocative ideas would thrive on the page, and soon after I joined Penguin, I reached out to him. I wrote him letters and sent him boxes of books in hopes that he would consider applying his trademark artistry to a different form. When he agreed to write a novel, I was overjoyed and so were publishers around the world like Nan Graham at Scribner and Hans Juergen Balmes at Fischer.
When did he send you the manuscript and what was your reaction when you first read it?
David shared the idea for his novel with me shortly after we finalized the deal in 2007, but the first draft of the manuscript didn’t land in my inbox until December 2012. I burned out of the office to read it that night – talk about worth the wait! I had expected it to be provocative and thought-provoking—which it is and has been since the beginning—but I was also completely swept up by the energetic and intoxicating prose and its distinctive and enthralling sensibility. It’s an irresistible book, and fans of his cinematic work will certainly recognize David’s touch in it – but they’ll also be surprised to discover his literary talent.
What was it like to edit the work of someone who is accustomed to directing?
I’m not going to lie to you, I was a bit nervous about making suggestions to one of the world’s greatest and most influential directors, but the editorial process was comfortable from the very beginning because David wanted to hear what I thought, what all of his publishers thought, but also because he had a clear vision for the novel. He knew what he wanted Consumed to be from the very beginning, and so it was about honoring that vision and making sure it was fully realized.
Are there aspects of Consumed that make it best suited for a novel, or do you think we are likely to see it as a film in the future?
It’s a novel first, and our hope is that people will come to it as just that rather than consider it a potential film. As for whether it will ever make it onto the big screen, that’s a question for David.