Michael, a lonely, aimless Londoner, inherits a family home in the south of France and is surprised to find himself entangled in a passionate tryst with a local beauty named Ariel. He's even more surprised when she breaks the bizarre news that she's a "maggot person"—and that because he's had sex with her, he's now one, too.
Michael thinks Ariel is "mad, mad, mad" when she explains what it means to be a "maggot person"—though you look like anyone else, your internal organs are entirely consumed and controlled by maggots, with the squirmy critters now performing every bodily function on their host's behalf (the brain is left intact, however, so one's thinking remains functional). Ariel warns Michael that his transition from humankind to maggot-hood will be fraught with excruciating pain and heavy bleeding but that "no painkillers will be of any use because the maggots eat the painkillers." She also warns him not to tell anyone about his newfound status—though, as we learn later, maggot people are part of a thriving underground, they're also hunted and discriminated against by some of the most vaunted echelons of society. After Ariel dies (or, rather, comes as close to death as maggot people can; they don't die so much as take extended, comalike rests), the narrative chronicles Michael's European quest to discover the truth about who he is and what his future might hold. Though the core concept of Koch's first novel (he's also written the story collection Love Doesn’t Work, 2011) is intriguing, one of the most compelling elements of the book—Michael's philosophical reflections on identity and connection—begins to get lost in a jumble of increasingly superfluous plot twists.
Some of the deeper themes feel enduringly relevant, and fans of creepy sci-fi–tinged thrillers will enjoy this book. More mainstream fiction readers may find it a touch too out-there.