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Like a Woman Scorned: On James Lasdun’s Give Me Everything You Have

By posted at 6:00 am on March 7, 2013 34

coverIn most love stories, a man pursuing a woman is depicted as gallant, noble, and deeply romantic. When a woman pursues a man, we call her “crazy,” “obsessed,” and “unstable.” Why one gender is gallant and the other nutso, I’m not sure, but one thing is clear: the female gone mad with love makes for one hell of an unconventional narrative — or as William Congreve put it in The Mourning Bride, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned / Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” And when that scorn can manifest in emails, comments, and digital subterfuge, the girlish chase becomes a sinister manhunt.

In James Lasdun’s memoir, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, we get a story half crime procedural, half memoir of attack. Lasdun’s story focused on how his reputation was systematically destroyed by a former writing student called “Nasreen.” Lasdun sees her writing, exploring themes of Iranian and American love, as a sign of true talent, and he genuinely supports her work. Nasreen graduates, two years go by, and Lasdun receives her email asking for help in securing a literary agent — an initial overture that soon turns more personal and romantically suggestive. When Lasdun gently declines her advances, Nasreen’s emails accuse him of student favoritism, then sexual harassment and assault, then racism, then full-blown plagiarism and criminal activity. When Lasdun declines to answer her emails, Nasreen incorporates her threats into everything from Amazon reader comments to university review boards, spreading her anti-semitic, tawdry comments to all of Lasdun’s friends and colleagues. Soon she infiltrates every part of his life, spreading lies and gossip and threatening to expose “the truth” behind his web of lies.

As Lasdun noted in his recent interview with The Millions, this book was “written right from the thick of the experience,” and the immediacy of the tale’s telling imbues each detail with a palpable sense of dread. Lasdun builds plenty of suspense and momentum — not only as each blistering attack lands, but also as Nasreen’s motivation remains indecipherable. The glimpse of their real-life interaction is extremely brief — in person, she is demure, even appreciative of his time. It is only when the firsthand communication disappears, and they transfer their relationship to email, that lines become blurred and the power dynamic begins to shift. When Nasreen coyly insinuates that Lasdun had snapped at her in class (a lover’s quarrel, in her mind), Lasdun is equally coy in his response. “Are you sure I didn’t just push you to declare an opinion on something? (I remember you being rather reticent.)” He then adds, semi-prophetically, “As George Eliot said, the last thing we learn in life is our effect on other people.” Nasreen’s early impressions of him become Lasdun’s downfall, and he is sent reeling by how easily she insinuates herself into his life — at work, at home, and in his online likeness (impersonating him on various websites, sending racist and sexist articles using his email address). If, as noted in his Millions interview, this is the story of “two novelists who are, in different ways, trying to create each other as characters,” Nasreen’s greatest crime is becoming too powerful an author. “One has no control over the use other people make of one’s image or the sound of one’s voice or any other outward manifestation of oneself,” Lasdun writes, as he finds himself a character rather than the captain of his own story. She has hijacked his very sense of self. “Life, death, honor, reputation. Such, at this point, are the terms and stakes of the challenge.”

covercoverHowever, in order to paint Nasreen as a mad woman with a powerful grudge, Lasdun takes an unnecessarily dry and impersonal tone, using supplementary texts on the nature of obsession to further his case. (On his reading list: Tintin — the books with Arab villains, natch — Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, D.H. Lawrence’s personal biography, or Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. Perhaps we should give Lasdun credit for not citing Fatal Attraction and Sunset Boulevard.) As he goes into his analysis, painting Nasreen as a stalker and himself as a heroic naïf, the more he starts to sound like Humbert Humbert, more complicit than innocent, more culpable than defensible. There are moments where his humility cannot help but sound like a humblebrag: “I want to know what she thinks she is doing. [ . . . ] What happened—between us, or to her alone — to make my unremarkable existence matter so much to her?” He does acknowledge that in trying to write this story, his motivation is as cloudy as Nasreen’s:

I have a strong vested interest, after all, in claiming that Nasreen was fundamentally sane. I want to hold her responsible for her behavior. [ . . . ] But I also have to admit that if I didn’t, I would probably feel uncomfortable writing about her. Uncomfortable not only from a personal point of view but also from a litery one.

Heaven forbid that Lasdun’s literary ethics be violated in depicting the actual truth — perhaps this is the problem when the author is also the main character. In trying to mount a self-defense, Lasdun’s case rests on giving Nasreen full agency — an impossibility, given that throughout her attacks, he never once confronts her directly. “I wasn’t thinking about the effect of my not answering,” Lasdun noted in his interview, “[nor] the effects of silence on someone who is obsessed with you.” Incidental or not, Lasdun’s silence allows him to be the “bigger guy” in this scenario, and so his descriptions of Nasreen are anything but empowering: he compares her to a groundhog, “defiantly present in my garden every morning.” In the final section, set during a trip to Israel, Lasdun tries to provide a global context for Nasreen’s behavior, and in doing so overly simplifies her crimes to a simple clash of cultures. (Comparing Nasreen’s missives to the Wailing Wall is even more grating.) In the very act of writing down his “side of the story,” Lasdun denies us the chance to cross-examine him.

So what did really happen? Yes, Lasdun was pursued; yes, he was attacked; yes, he remains wary of Nasreen’s next move even today; and yes — he will continue to represent himself as victim even as he promotes this book. It’s a pity that while so many stories of female victimization (sexual and otherwise) are grouped into the “women and gender studies” category, Lasdun may sit front and center on the “New in Nonfiction” table . . . a categorization that only holds up as well as you can believe that a one-sided story can be taken as irrevocable truth. Lasdun himself does express doubts at the very writing of this story: “It is a recurrent anxiety of mine, this fear of irrelevance, and I have no argument against it other than [ . . . ] that sometimes the urge to write these very private things is stronger than the doubts about whether they are worth writing.” Only Lasdun can tell us whether the story was worth it — the bigger question, the one that snakes itself to the front of my mind at each line of flowery recrimination, is whether Lasdun should’ve taken his story public. “Was I am objective, impartial observer, a purely neutral participant in those early months of our exchange?” he asks, and then answers: “I was not. Nobody ever is.” And so I wonder, as the praise-laden reviews roll out, if a certain former student is clicking onto Amazon and Goodreads and slowly, methodically, conducting her own self-defense.





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34 Responses to “Like a Woman Scorned: On James Lasdun’s Give Me Everything You Have”

  1. Tim O'Meara
    at 9:02 am on March 7, 2013

    I find this review a little baffling, given that the very point of Lasdun’s book is to address the issues that Freeman-Slade finds with it – as in, Lasdun is writing about how issues of perspective, identification, truth, belief, and so on arise in any asymmetric situation where a man of privilege is harassed and threatened by a woman with less privilege.

    Further, on the question of one-sidedness and whether he should have gone public – first, he includes Nasreen’s emails, which speak for themselves; second, she had already taken the matter public in a variety of fora; third, what option did he have? He was being accused, in public, and in private to his employers, of certain hideous crimes against women and writing.

    Also, comparing him to Humbert Humbert, and ending with the thought (the certainty, really) that his harasser is still active? I think Lasdun’s book, and what happened to him, deserve more serious consideration.

  2. Tim O'Meara
    at 9:11 am on March 7, 2013

    Also, saying that a victim of sexual, social, and professional harassment sounds ‘more complicit than innocent, more culpable than defensible’, while comparing him to Humbert Humbert, strikes me as very ugly. It may well be better to understand the situation than to attribute all blame to the aggressor – but blaming the victim in such cases is something I thought we’d left behind a long time ago.

  3. Jan Whitaker
    at 11:32 am on March 7, 2013

    Lasdun may have done Nasreen a big favor. I’m sure she could land a nice book deal now.

  4. Sam Allingham
    at 11:51 am on March 7, 2013

    I shared some of Freeman-Slade’s concerns about the book – especially the final section, which seems to seek a position for Lasdun’s struggle among some pretty serious international matters. It’s a fascinating work, but not always for the reasons that Lasdun presents; it would require a whole other review to sketch out the interesting and sometimes rather strange ways that his experience with Nasreen brings up Lasdun’s uncomfortable racial and sexual predilections, and his half- buried grousing concerning the lot of a male professor and sexual harassment suits seems a little spurious. (Woe be the position of straight male authority! Woe indeed!) I also agree with the reviewer that by placing himself in the lineage of Gawain he risks extreme self- aggrandizement- though, to be fair, the part concerning Strangers on a Train is more complex and nuanced when it comes to guilt. However, there are other parts of the book that are fascinating in their connections between literature and life; I don’t particularly enjoy a lot of Lasdun’s evocations of his own sexuality – his conflicted observation of a girl’s breasts on cross-country train is especially ickyl – but the way he breaks down the connections between one of his short stories and his sexual attraction to Nasreen actually dramatizes many of the tensions Freeman-Slade brings up in her review: between narration and dominance, sexuality and repression, desire and the need to be “the better person.” This in no way invalidates her critique: a lot of the book finds Lasdun floundering in half-articulated issues of male identity that often come across as self-serving, and by publishing the book he gives the reader and reviewer every right to judge him for that. (I’ve certainly seen worse comparisons than Humbert Humbert in my years of review reading.) But it seems to me that the book also provides, in its best sections, an interesting and personal self-investigation into reputation and desire that shouldn’t be completely rejected simply because it veers at times into the kind of straight-male self-defense territory we’re all a bit too familiar with.

  5. M. Jacobs
    at 12:17 pm on March 7, 2013

    Going to have to agree with Tim, above, there is some pretty repulsive victim blaming going on in this review. I’m not sure he’s “representing” himself as a victim or “painting” her as a stalker when he was actually pursued and attacked. The entire undertone of this review is “he’s a man, in some way he must have instigated it.”

  6. heather
    at 12:29 pm on March 7, 2013

    i agree with the first paragraph of this article, however it is not relevant to what happened to mr. lasdun. further, i think mr. lasdun’s attempts at introspection are to be lauded and not disparaged as self serving. thank you.

  7. R
    at 3:39 pm on March 7, 2013

    This is an ugly review, and small.

  8. kathleen
    at 5:43 pm on March 7, 2013

    Her review is at the very least, off-putting, and at the very most, appalling. I agree with previous commenters that her insinuation that because the target is male, he must have instigated it is despicable. What if their interactions had become physical? If he had been raped, I wonder, would the reviewer’s tone have changed?

    On the other hand, Miss Slade largely fails to address the countering issue – she takes Lasdun’s maleness to task without addressing his actual person. This sort of pseudo-feminism perpetuates the presumption that a man can in no way stand idly by, but must have had some hand in the forces at work in the other person. This trope of man as constant pursuer, and inevitable holder of power, even subconsciously, allows us to view him in a superficial light, and gloss over and more specific and individualized facts that might be more telling about the specific issue at hand.

  9. Zoe Angeliades
    at 5:47 pm on March 7, 2013

    Jessica Freeman-Slade, when you begin by presuming that women who pursue are categorically crazy, you should be ashamed of yourself.

  10. Nick Moran
    at 6:30 pm on March 7, 2013

    Zoe,

    The author of the piece is not personally presuming that “women who pursue are categorically crazy” — she is noting (correctly) that such is how this gender dichotomy is often portrayed in the media, and in literature (specifically, “in most love stories”).

  11. Maureen Murphy ("Moe Murph")
    at 9:51 am on March 8, 2013

    Haven’t read the book yet, but the dizzying range of opinion on both the book and the review have convinced me I’ve got to check it out.

    (But come on, let’s not start “shaming” each other)

  12. justaphotographer
    at 11:05 am on March 11, 2013

    Not sure what to make of this piece. The author makes two cogent points about the way women are commonly portrayed but these evidently have little to do with the story at hand. Lasdun’s book is self-aggrandizing – what memoir isn’t? It tells his side of the story, the side more difficult to make out in the trail of slander left by his stalker. Repossessing the narrative is his only recourse after being publicly humiliated – are we to understand this is wrong?

    The fact that Lasdun feels this riveting story has to be propped up by a political critique (one apparently more revealing than the the author intended) is an intriguing point for exploration, but this essay is not interested in anything so subtle. I’m afraid the only person who looks strident here is the reviewer.

  13. JamesH
    at 11:06 pm on March 13, 2013

    “And so I wonder, as the praise-laden reviews roll out, if a certain former student is clicking onto Amazon and Goodreads and slowly, methodically, conducting her own self-defense.”

    And after reading this very strange “review,” Jessica, it feels like you are leading the charge in that defense.

    If you have some relevant knowledge about Lasdun that suggests he was somehow the aggressor and not the victim here, then by all means–share it with your readers.

    And no, the fact that he is male and she is female, is not enough.

  14. Elizabeth
    at 1:47 am on March 19, 2013

    Hmm. Humbert Humbert was a pedophile. Even at the greatest heights of self-delusion, the reader always knew his crime against a child.

    In this case, before the author published a memoir, the “readers” of the character Nasreen had created were utterly ignorant of his character and intentions.

    Did you perhaps confuse offering an unexpected review with offering wisdom? Just disagreeing with other people is not a sign of cleverness. A former student dehumanized and slandered a professor, so he compares her to a groundhog (destroyer of well-maintained gardens) because he cannot convince to leave . . . What a monster he must be, to compare the destruction of his reputation and personal security as a nuisance.

  15. Brandon
    at 4:14 am on March 20, 2013

    What a terrible review.

    In suggesting that something is amiss with only Lasdun’s side of the story being presented in this work does real violence to the very notion of memoir, namely the trust we place in the credibility of the author. That we do not get the chance to “cross-examine” Lasdun, given his chosen vehicle of expression, is an especially bitter irony in that throughout this ordeal he clearly pursued every opportunity to resolve this issue in a formal manner which would no doubt involve his cross-examining in a very real, legal sense. In many instances throughout this narrative Lasdun makes is very clear that he would relish the opportunity to have this ugliness play out in a court where all could be examined! Moreover, asking for “both sides” ignores the fact that Nasreen’s “side” was being voiced all over Amazon and other review sites, to Lasdun’s colleagues, friends, etc. Nasreen had plenty of opportunity to voice herself; Lasdun’s book is a reaction.

    Of course, again this would presupposed that his side of the story has credibility based on the notion that the author of non-fiction ought to be granted the respect and dignity of having their words taken at face value, unless a clear and precise reason to suggest otherwise is presented. Instead of this, the author of the review only offers half-baked literary and cultural observations so abstract and non-specific that I wonder if we even read the same book. How do you get the “other side of the story” in an endless torrent of vitriolic, abusive and both personally and professionally slanderous missives from a clearly unhinged and vicious woman? One must live life gazing mighty hard through the prism of gender (which must be exhausting!) to even make sense of the perspective this review begs, and then turn a blind eye to the hard evidence of abuse that Lasdun presents very clearly to approach where the reviewer is coming from.

    A comment above suggests that the reviewer “takes Lasdun’s maleness to task without addressing his actual person.” I think this is spot on. It is a sad way to live life (judging individuals by their x-ness), and an especially sad way to review a memoir, a medium where concerns of the ‘actual person’ are essential.

  16. Tim O'Meara
    at 12:17 pm on March 22, 2013

    Returning to this review, I’m slightly surprised that neither its author nor The Millions have made any comment either in its defense or withdrawing at least some of its uglier insinuations.

    For more intelligent looks at Lasdun’s book, read Elaine Showalter’s review in the TLS (the best of all that I’ve seen) or Pamela Erens in the LA Review. Both are freely available online.

  17. JamesH
    at 5:40 pm on March 23, 2013

    Perhaps their silence speaks for them.

  18. Akha
    at 2:27 pm on March 25, 2013

    Tim and James- I have shared your surprise, and am rather disappointed that Freeman-Slade has chosen to retreat as soon as others began to question her review, especially when the opportunity for valuable discussion presented itself. It truly is telling when the comments are far more effective than the review, and hope that if the Millions choose to keep her as a reviewer they request that she engage with the commentary instead of hiding away at any sign of disagreement.

  19. C. Max Magee
    at 8:03 am on March 28, 2013

    As the editor on this piece, I understand that the Lasdun book and discussion around it has the potential to be very controversial, but I do believe some commenters here are reading things in this review that aren’t there.

    My takeaway from this piece is that, while Lasdun is certainly the victim based on every piece of evidence that we know, it is highly problematic to have one party telling both sides of the story. That is simply not how our society addresses conflicts like this one, and I think that is an important point to be raised in the discussion of this book.

  20. Tim O'Meara
    at 9:49 am on March 28, 2013

    Max, thanks for replying, and for all the work you do that makes this site so valuable. In my opinion, this review is a rare misfire by The Millions, and it’s a shame that it was on a topic so controversial (and one that involves real people).

    Just a few points in reply to your post:

    First, isn’t every memoir one-sided? At least this one contains the other person’s voice too, in emails.

    Second, comparing a victim of sexual harassment to Humbert Humbert, saying that “he will continue to represent himself as victim even as he promotes this book”
    and judging that he sounds “more complicit than innocent, more culpable than defensible” is not only blaming the victim, it’s a reading that no other reviewer sees in Lasdun’s book.

    There is a wider social context, of course, and that context is rife with male privilege and worse. But Lasdun deals, in my opinion at least, very well with the context. Someone tried to destroy his career and his sense of security, and sexually harassed him, and harmed his family life. Being compared to a child-rapist probably isn’t the worst thing that’s happened to him in recent years, but it won’t be among the more pleasant, either.

    And, “In the very act of writing down his side of the story, Lasdun denies us the chance to cross-examine him” is obnoxious. What would Freeman-Slade have had him do? Writing a book is entering into the conversation – and Lasdun was interviewed all over the place about this book, including on The Millions. And he wasn’t starting something – he was answering something. The person who up to that point wasn’t being cross-examined was his harasser.

    Finally, the review’s tone is, to me and it seems many of the other commenters, snide and skeptical, without coming out and (say) denying Lasdun’s claims. This is a real social problem about sexual crime, that victims have to walk a cordon of doubt. It’s that factor that (I suspect) made so many people think it worth objecting to this review.

    Sorry for going on at length. Tim

  21. Jess
    at 9:54 am on March 28, 2013

    As the reviewer on this piece, I’m not surprised that my thoughts have provoked discussion and debate (some more insightful than others) about this book. It’s a complex narrative, one that we’re not used to reading in everyday literature, and clearly some of the points I made were maybe more provocative than they were on point. (To those readers who wondered why I hadn’t answered comments before–I’ve generally found that critics who end up clarifying their intentions after the fact sound more defensive than illuminating, and that if the review didn’t do the job of arguing the points well enough, that’s on the critic, not the readers.)

    To the points that people have made about my blaming Lasdun–I have not done anything of the sort. My use of the “Humbert Humbert” comparison was perhaps misplaced: as a lifelong reader of Nabokov, I think of Humbert as the greatest example of an unreliable narrator in literature (far more than a mere sexual deviant). I also have no knowledge of Lasdun beyond the pages of this memoir–which is exceptionally well-written and compelling, and very much worth reading. It takes a writer of Lasdun’s immense intellect and experience to put together a book that can be memoir, meditation, and cautionary tale, and there’s no question in my mind that his intention in writing the book was simply to tell his side of the story, since “Nasreen” had usurped so much of his agency in his day-to-day life. My primary critical point, through all of this, has been that the ambiguities in the book–the way certain details are provided, and the way Lasdun positions his experience against epics of personal struggle, i.e. Gawain, D.H. Lawrence, etc.–leave the reader wondering how a more factually driven, non-florid version of the experience would read. If the narrative had incorporated interviews with both Lasdun and Nasreen, shifting perspectives between chapters, would we feel differently? (To think of a comparison in the fictional universe, would “Gone Girl” feel dramatically different if it came from only Nick or Amy’s perspective? Would David Mamet’s “Oleanna”? Would “Lolita”?)

    In any case, I bear no ill will to Lasdun other than the very limitations of his exercise: in providing only one side of the story, it leaves me wondering what the other side looks like. I’m glad that the review, whether completely on point or completely off (aren’t these things always subjective anyway?) has brought readers to the Millions, and has provoked a strong discussion about portraits of victimization (male or female, in a position of power or not, anyone can be a victim–a point so obvious I’m surprised I have to make it). If you read my other reviews on the Millions, you’ll see that what I try to engage in, whether I’m picking up nonfiction or fiction, are questions of how we read in context of our greater social narrative. When you read a book about professional and sexual victimization, memoir or not, you cannot remove it from the other narratives in our society that influence our perceptions of predator and prey. I hope other readers at the Millions, whose comments I’ve read, respected, and often applauded, can read this review as one opinion on a book that takes on this subject with a fascinating and fundamentally different perspective. Whether you totally agree with my review or whether you want to tear it apart, the book deserves your attention.

    Thank you for your smart and thoughtful reads.

  22. JamesH
    at 12:45 pm on March 28, 2013

    Magee writes:

    “My takeaway from this piece is that, while Lasdun is certainly the victim based on every piece of evidence that we know, it is highly problematic to have one party telling both sides of the story. That is simply not how our society addresses conflicts like this one, and I think that is an important point to be raised in the discussion of this book.”

    Seriously? So I guess Lasdun should have gotten his stalker to co-write his book with him. So we could get “both sides of the story?”

    Do have any idea how bat shit crazy that sounds?

    Let me put it another way. Let’s reverse the genders.

    Let’s say Lasdun was a woman being stalked by a man who was determined to destroy her life and reputation after she rejected his sexual advances. She writes a book about her experience, documenting it with the numerous written threats she received from her stalker on a daily basis.

    Would your conclusion really be, “Well, it is highly problematic. to have one party telling both sides of the story.?”

    I think there’s something very strange going on here, and it seems to have little to do with the book supposedly under discussion, no matter how “controversial” you claim it to be.

  23. Tim O'Meara
    at 1:08 pm on March 28, 2013

    Jess, thank you for responding to the discussion (which has indeed been excellent and thought-provoking).

    You write that [Lasdun leaves] “the reader wondering how a more factually driven, non-florid version of the experience would read. If the narrative had incorporated interviews with both Lasdun and Nasreen, shifting perspectives between chapters, would we feel differently?”

    I just can’t agree that the book would be better if less literary. Lasdun is a very educated and literary writer. Whatever one thinks of those qualities, they’re part of his experience and how he processes things and relates them to the wider culture, and I very much valued that aspect of his book.

    Further, while “what would this look like from another POV” is a good question, I find the idea that narratives of being subject to criminal harassment should include interviews with / the POV of the stalker/harasser very, very troubling.

    Bullies, stalkers, and rapists do have stories and points of view (that’s one of Nabokov’s points) but asking the victims to acknowledge them is cruel and unfair (and that is, of course, another of Nabokov’s points).

  24. LittleBat
    at 6:31 am on April 3, 2013

    “This is a real social problem about sexual crime, that victims have to walk a cordon of doubt.”

    A memoir which offers not one single detail which can be verified – all names are pen names, all institutions referred to vaguely – is not really a testimony of sexual crime. It is a text which engages the reader, and the reader is free to respond to with doubt or counter-images.

    Thank you Jessica for a thoughtful and well written review. My own view of this book is somewhat different. I doubt very much if “Nasreen” will ever go public with her own version of events. I have my own reasons for thinking that. To encounter her would be like meeting that wonderful literary figure “Terminator” LeRoy… (Wink!)

  25. JamesH
    at 1:26 pm on April 3, 2013

    So the reviewer compares Lasdun to the world’s most famous pedophile (but only, of course, in terms of his being an “unreliable narrato,r” because that is the first thing we all think of when we think of Humbert Humbert) and now you, “LittleBat” take the slightly more passive aggressive approach to imply that he is the author of a complete hoax, by comparing him to Laura Albert.

    Nice to see that character assassination is alive and well.

    So, “LittleBat,” in the wake of James Frey and, yes, Albert, you are really asserting that Farrar, Straus and Giroux just said, “Oh, we don’t need any documentation, no emails or police reports, we’ll just take your word for everything,” when they decided to publish this book?

    Really?

    And your evidence for this is … ?

  26. LittleBat
    at 1:02 am on April 4, 2013

    Farrar, Straus and Giroux … Publishers of – Honor Lost : Love and Death in Modern Day Jordan, by Norma Khouri.

    A notable memoir, and like this work, related to the Middle East.

    When Norma Khouri’s book hit the market, the sympathetic outpourings of readers was like a torrent, and there was a lot of rage toward the few critical voices which appeared. People from Jordan contacted the publishers with their doubts about the book, and were given the brush off. It took a huge effort by an investigative journalist to bring out the truth.

    So there is always room for doubt about such things.

    As for the book under discussion, look more closely at the text, and you will notice how vague are any identifying details. And remember that many people believed in LeRoy – for good reason – they had actually met him. They did not suspect that this was an impersonator, playing a role in order to oblige the author … The world of memoirs is very strange.

  27. LittleBat
    at 1:09 am on April 4, 2013

    Tim O’Meara wrote:

    ‘Further, while “what would this look like from another POV” is a good question, I find the idea that narratives of being subject to criminal harassment should include interviews with / the POV of the stalker/harasser very, very troubling.’

    That is a difficult issue, and it also impinges on documentary films about crimes – how much information is a further indignity to a victim, or should viewers be given more details, etc.

    In the case of this memoir, it is unusual that only one side of a correspondence is cited – N.’s emails are quoted at length, but it is not clear what the replies might be. So there is room there for a reader to validly want more context to the correspondence.

  28. Jamesh
    at 1:23 am on April 4, 2013

    Ah, LittleBat. How unfair of you to come back with a civil, well-reasoned response. Qualities that perhaps were lacking in my prior post. I’ll have to look into this “Honor Lost” affair you mention.

    I wonder if anyone is working or will work to uncover Nasreen’s identitiy and why Lasdun chose to conceal it in the first place. He can’t have taught at that many places …

  29. LittleBat
    at 2:03 am on April 4, 2013

    Jamesh, thanks for your post, and actually, I like to argue these points. To a certain extent, I am arguing with myself. I go back and forward … sometimes I believe in the authenticity of the memoir, and sometimes I think it is a work of fiction from a polished novelist.

    The strongest point in favor of James Lasdun’s story is that Porochista Khakpour, an Iranian/American woman novelist, has also encountered Nasreen, and on the Guernica mag site, there is an interview between her as Lasdun, where she confims every detail of the story. One reads it, and one thinks – ok, then. That’s settled.

    But .. Porochista says some odd things, which take one back to the ambiguous world of the LeRoy hoax. She says she has ‘never met’ Nasreen, but that Nasreen has a very lively Facebook page, which she often uses to libel others. P.K. and J.L. then discuss how a new Facebook page has appeared, to try to trace the real Nasreen, but has had no luck so far.

    I also found it slightly creepy where Porochista says that Nasreen looks very like her – they resemble each other – and Nasreen has falsely accused her of stealing her look.

    As I re-read the interview, it seemed much more complicated, and my doubts returned. One thing Porochista and James agree on, is that Nasreen’s name cannot be mentioned. They don’t say why, which reminds me Lillian Hellman and case of ‘Julia.’

    This brings me to the issue which is the strongest evidence against the veracity of this memoir. It is built around lengthy quotations of ‘Nasreen’s’ correspondence. But copyright of a letter or email is retained by the writer (or possibly, if written at her work desk, by her employer.) James Lasdun doesn’t have copyright over that correspondence, unless Nasreen has signed a contract to that effect. If she did, then the relationship between them is very different from what we have been told. If she didn’t, then no publisher would touch the manuscript.

    This issue of copyright over correspondence of living people has stopped many biographies from being written. It is a real issue for historians of contemporary history. Why would it not apply in this case? He could still write a memoir, but he would have to paraphrase the emails, and limit direct quotes to the mean little allowance of ‘fair dealing.’ A few words only.

    So … one wonders.

  30. C. Max Magee
    at 8:10 am on April 4, 2013

    Good discussion! I too wonder about the anonymity of Nasreen. Why not out her real name? Wouldn’t going public with her name be a way for Lasdun to fight back? I understand that there may be legal concerns about doing that, but as far as concerns about libel, he seems to have all the evidence he needs on his side to refute that. And if her name were public, wouldn’t that make it very hard for her to continue her campaign of harassment?

    Alternatively, why has Nasreen not gone public to defend herself? Why has she not retained a lawyer and sued Lasdun? I don’t want to suggest any fabrication, because I have no reason to believe that’s what’s going on here, I just find the whole thing so curious and so out of step with how situations like this normally play out. Anti-harassment/stalking laws seem to be fairly robust – you see mentions of them in the press in connection with minor celebrities all the time. People get restraining orders all the time. And if it’s newsworthy to someone, the name of the perpetrator is revealed by the media. Why not this time?

  31. Lisa
    at 3:39 am on May 5, 2013

    Jan Whitaker I don’t think this book could help get Nasereen a publishing contract because I don’t think Nasereen is mentally healthy enough to finish a book. I got the impression from this book that her disappointment about that was at the core of her rage and then she started imagining her unfinished work as being the inspiration for published authors work that she read.
    I don’t agree with C.Max that any of this is out of step with the reality of these situations.
    You imagine that antistalking law is somehow robust. It is not when it crosses state or country lines. She lives in California and he lives in New York and her harassment until recently was conducted by email. But if you do a bit of googling you’ll find Nasereen’s harassment has actually stopped now. She got extreme enough that she left a bunch of threats on his answer machine in August 2012 and by the sounds of it she scared herself enough by doing (re the fact that she could eventually be charged with a crime) that that she hasn’t harassed him since.

  32. Lisa
    at 3:43 am on May 5, 2013

    Here’s the link to the information that she stopped in August after leaving 20 threats on his answer machine.

  33. Lisa
    at 3:44 am on May 5, 2013
  34. Book Notes: Give Me Everything You Have | Ordinary Times
    at 9:58 am on April 22, 2014

    […] asks what Lasdun might be leaving out; was there a sexual attraction fostered between the two? In The Millions, Jessica Freeman-Slade compares him to Humbert Humbert, the go-to example of an unreliable narrator […]

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