Give Me the Full Story ‒ James Lasdun ‒ My Doubts
Give Me Everything You Have, by James Lasdun, was published in 2013 and has been a lively success. James Lasdun is an expatriate in the US from a distinguished Anglo-Jewish family, as a novelist and a poet he has been of good repute but little fame. Now, he is a celebrity memoirist. He transformed an unpleasant experience ‒ of being stalked and harassed by an Iranian woman who was his former student ‒ by relating it in a literary and emotional memoir. This book has been rapturously received by critics and given the type of extensive coverage which creates a successful buzz around a publication.
Give Me Everything You Have is deserving of a thorough fact check, and a skeptical appraisal. This is a tale of a passionate relationship gone wrong, told through anonymity and without any external references. Stories like that always needed a counterbalancing view. It is also a highly political text, which draws upon a cultural landscape of stereotypes about the Middle East, while presenting itself as innocent unfiltered observation.
Cyber-terrorism and Stalking
The character Nasreen, as described in James Lasdun's memoir, is not easy to discern. She drives the story through her malice and destructive energy, and James Lasdun quotes her correspondence at length. However, he gives no information about her identity, and 'Nasreen' is a pseudonym. He sketches out her career with only a few references to a job at a magazine. We learnt that she left New York, where he was living, and went to California, but no explanation is given for this. The memoir also states that she visited Australia, with no further explanation. James Lasdun describes Nasreen's appearance, but not her financial means, her other relationships, or her health. As these are the factors which construct the possibilities of life, she is quite a shadowy figure.
The memoir reduces 'Nasreen' to a cipher, because the only things we learn about her are those which impact upon her relationship with James Lasdun. She was a former student from a New York university where he lectured in a creative writing class. Around 2005 he introduced her to his agent and his editor ‒ he mentions this in passing but it is in fact an unusual favor. She shows a romantic attachment to him, which he rebuffed. During 2007, their relationship soured, she pursues him with hostile emails, which escalate to full-on harassment. Abuse, threats and anti-Semitic rants are constantly emailed to him. She also harasses his editor and agent, and she impersonates him by sending contrived and offensive messages using his email address as a false header. She also vandalized his Wikipedia page, which needed numerous edits, and wrote hostile reviews of his work on public forums.
This memoir of an author's bitter relationship with a would-be author is naturally centred around the topic of writing. James Lasdun attributes a most malign power to Nasreen ‒ she stopped him from writing. The stress of dealing with her made it very difficult even to read.
The further her occupation of my mind extended, the harder it was to concentrate on anything else. Reading became problematic. Books that required any active effort of engagement were out of the question. At the same time, books that required only passive submission to a well-oiled mechanism of suspense became addictive. Mysteries, crime novels, psychological thrillers were all I read that year. (Lasdun, p. 146). [emphasis mine]
However, this account of his misfortunes is contradicted by other sources. If one consults media databases for the year 2008, which is apparently when his reading activities were almost snuffed out by Nasreen, one finds that he was a book reviewer for The Guardian. In fact, he was constantly reading weighty literary works, and also some non-fiction, and writing lengthy reviews. It is amazing that someone who had such a profile as a book reviewer could later claim to have been unable to read much.
The idea that James Lasdun was reduced to creative famine by Nasreen is very central to the message of his memoir, and has been reiterated in interviews. As Naomi Zeveloff of Forward Magazine was told:
Meanwhile, Lasdun's creative output diminished. Between 2007 and 2010, he and Davis wrote a travel guide together, and he published a single book of stories, "It's Beginning To Hurt," made up mostly of previously written material. "He couldn't move forward. He was blocked," was how his agent of 27 years described his condition in an interview.
When making a plea that he had been 'blocked' by Nasreen's stalking, and had published only a travel book between 2007 and 2010 both James Lasdun and his agent seem to be forgetting that he had returned to verse, and published a volume of poetry, Water Sessions, which appeared in 2012 and achieved notable recognition. In addition to the poetry, there were substantial works of short fiction, such as 'The Hollow' published in Paris Review in 2009, and also, a number of non-fiction essays. He also wrote a screen play based on his novel, Seven Lies, for an independent producer.
The question of whether or not Nasreen really did stop James Lasdun from writing is quite important, because it is the only real damage she is said to have achieved. In this sense, Give Me Everything is an unusual memoir about stalking, and might lead readers to underestimate the effects of such crimes. As one reads James Lasdun's memoir, one keeps expecting to find a gruesome account of money lost, employment terminated, or unjust public disparagement. Nothing actually happens, which may be why the author constantly diverts into discussions about literature and ways that his situation is mirrored in texts like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
In the memoir, James Lasdun describes two journeys ‒ one to the west coast of the USA, and one to Jerusalem, where he wrestled alone with the dilemma of how to cope with Nasreen's animosity. Concerning the journey to Jerusalem, he notes that he was invited to write an article and: 'This kind of invitation comes my way only rarely ...' (Lasdun, p. 167) Most readers of the memoir would not be aware that during the course of these events he was invited to participate in Florida Writers Festival in Nov 2011, and to the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2009. He also was engaged in the hugely disruptive life change of moving his existing house to a new location. James Lasdun describes this in a 2010 article for the Times Literary Supplement, and states that his family were obliged to live in hotels and transient locations until the house was finally refurbished in a different location on their rural property. None of this is mentioned in the memoir, which is therefore giving a very partial, very edited down version of his life during these years.
What of his claim to have been reading crime fiction and thrillers because of a need for escapism amid Nasreen's campaign of hatred? She inflicted a fear so intense that: 'sometimes at night if I heard a sound I would lie half awake for long stretches, wishing I owned a gun.' (Lasdun, 135-36) He actually describes the crime novels, which are a genre of fiction filled with deadly violence, as being not a diversion from, but a reflection of, his situation: 'Often in these suspense novels I would find echoes of my own predicament ... sometimes entire plotlines. (Lasdun, 147)
Yet, if we look back at his publications during this time, we find that James Lasdun's interest in crime fiction is seen in an entirely different light. His essay, 'Police procedurals,' published in the London Review of Books, 8 September 2011, has a breezy and confident tone:
I've often fantasised about writing a police procedural series. Sometimes the fantasy gets to the point where I start sketching out ideas, but invariably I come up against the double problem of my ignorance of how the police actually proceed and my private veto against fiction requiring serious research. So I stop. But something made me try again, and a few months ago I came home from my local Barnes and Noble with a stack of books ...
He then attended a series of public seminars on police work. James Lasdun describes himself sitting among retirees and undergraduates, 'and a couple of quiet men my own age whom I suspect of being rival aspiring crime novelists.' The article then gives an entertaining description of learning how to fire a pistol, and taking part in video simulations of deadly clashes involved in police work. 'By the time it was over I was so pumped up and buzzing I could hardly bear to hand over my gun, my Glock 23, to the next student.'
If one were to rely upon this article as a sole source of information, one would suppose that in 2009-10 James Lasdun was a cheerful, dynamic writer with no unsatisfied longing for a weapon, and who had learnt to use a firearm in order to sharpen up his research into potential topics in crime fiction. If in turn one looks at the memoir's account of that same era, he says nothing at all about any interest in writing a police procedural, and portrays himself as alone and terrorized, futilely wishing that he had a gun during the dark watches of the night.
Where does the gun fit into the overall story? It has no obvious place, because despite all of Nasreen's threats, she never physically approached him, and had moved away to a location on the other side of the United States. A firearm is not much use against emails. The story of wishing for a gun is emblematic, rather, of James Lasdun's ability to draw very different stories out of one theme.
One of Nasreen's most improbable allegations about James Lasdun was that he was exploiting her by planning to use her, and her writings and emails, as material for his own publications. This is a paranoid idea, so peculiar that it apparently brought about its own fulfillment.
In Give Me Everything, James Lasdun reproduces a letter she sent to a college which had employed him as a writer in residence:
James Lasdun is probably hard at work writing yet another sadistic tale about me, just like his previous awful, crass poem Bittersweet, knowing that I had dwindled down to 98 pounds after he and his evil witches (Kurwen and banker Schwartz) deceived and stole from me ‒ and after I'd been raped by a colleague at a magazine ... And now you are funding him to exploit me yet again because in my state of trauma and naive trust in him I told him many things, and this is precisely his plan, as he's told me in the last email he sent. (Lasdun 116-117)
Ultimately, the publication of Give Me Everything both enacts and denounces this allegation. James Lasdun states that he consulted legal opinions before working on the memoir, and that they warned him of the malice of his adversary: 'Might I be making things worse for myself? "She'll do everything she can to discredit you," the lawyer warned. But hadn't she already?' (Lasdun, 165)
This mention of lawyers is the only point in the memoir where James Lasdun even approaches a discussion of the ethical and legal implications of his book. But surely any lawyer whom he consulted about this memoir project would start talking to him about copyright infringement, rather than attempts to discredit him.
It is astonishing that no review of Give Me Everything has mentioned this, although the restrictions of copyright law are often discussed in the media. It is rare to find a story in publication where the very structure and content of the text calls into question the veracity of its claims. But that is what we are looking at here. The memoir could not have been published in its present form, unless Nasreen signed a release, allowing James Lasdun the right to publish her correspondence. If she did so, then the relationship between them is very different from what we have been told. If she did not do so, then no reputable publisher would even consider the manuscript. There would be particular concerns about the 'letter from Nasreen', printed on pages 115 to 117 of Give Me Everything, because this is a document published in its entirety.
Whilst considering legal issues, there is the other obvious question of why Nasreen has never been charged before the courts for her crimes against James Lasdun. Some of the actions described in both the memoir and in interviews, could give rise to criminal charges, and a civil suit for harassment would be easily justifiable. However, as James Lasdun told Forward Magazine on 25 Feb 2013, no charges have been laid against Nasreen because his editor and agent are too afraid that her presence in New York, during legal proceedings would be dangerous to them. Yet this information is contradictory. If Nasreen is a person too dangerous to prosecute ‒ like a Columbian drug lord ‒ then why is it safe to publish a memoir about her?
Around the year 2011, Nasreen began a campaign of vicious phone calls. As James Lasdun told The Telegraph on 13 Feb 2013:
I had the machine on silent but I had to listen to some of it to record it for the police ... Her voice is terrifying, nothing like the voice I remember. And hearing threats against you and your children, and explosions of hate, is incredibly disturbing.
One of the oddities of James Lasdun's accounts of the calls, is that he says in the above interview: '... Her voice is ... nothing like the voice I remember.' Likewise, in the memoir, he reports that she began making numerous threatening phone calls, in 'all in a bizarre, unrecognizable, sing-song voice,' (Lasdun, 211).
Reviews and Slanders
James Lasdun's memoir describes a series of hostile internet postings about his works, and demonstrates the greatest distress that Nasreen has damaged his public self so viciously. In particular, he credits her with being the author of a negative post on Goodreads, which describes his short story 'The Seige', as racist.
Here I was, a standard-issue liberal with unimpeachably correct views on everything, casting the shadow of some leering, reactionary bigot. Unlike Amazon, Goodreads doesn't have a 'report' option for malicious postings, so there it still sits today, a little inexhaustible font of poison spreading its plumes into the hitherto clear waters of my virtual self. (Lasdun, 111-112)
Although one might sympathise about receiving a hostile review, or an unfair review, or both, it should be noted that James Lasdun has no right to be so surprised by this. The topic of his story 'The Seige' involves a sexual attraction between an African woman who works as a servant and a privileged European man who is her employer. This is a controversial topic. In the case of 'The Seige', there were informal comments by some readers indicating aversion, and once the story appeared as a film Beseiged, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, firebrand critic Roger Ebert was severely critical. In June 1999 he wrote: 'In a hasty moment I described the film as "racist," but it is not that so much as thoughtless ... in "Besieged" we have troublesome buried issues.' Roger Ebert directs his scathing criticism at the screenplay. He asks: 'How can a director of such sophistication, in a film of such stylistic grace, tell such a shallow and evasive story?'
This review was published in syndicated media, and then again republished in a book by Roger Ebert where he assembles his most hostile reviews - I Hated, Hated, Hated This Movie. It seems that the clear waters of Lasdun's virtual self had already been touched with poison, long since. His complaint about the Goodreads forum might be evidence of his own obsession about being damaged by Nasreen.
Not every member of the the Goodreads community appreciated James Lasdun's heartfelt complaint about their forum. La Petite Americaine asked: 'maybe Lasdun can't handle a bad review on goodreads? If he's trolling goodreads for bad reviews of his books, who's stalking who?'
Roger Ebert's review appeared years before any of the events in Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked. Rather eerily, however, his review, as published in The Record, was originally entitled: 'Promise Her Anything.' In his summation of the story, Ebert describes the characters of the black maid and the white householder, fascinated by each other, in a house so big that 'they move around it like stalkers.'
Several reviewers have noted that key themes from Give Me Everything are also found in James Lasdun's novel, The Horned Man. In this 2003 novel, an academic believes he is being framed for a series of crimes, and is pursued by anonymous letters and a lurking, invisible stalker. James Lasdun muses over this in the memoir, where he finds that the novel's descriptions of elaborate malice had 'a pertinence I struggle to find purely coincidental ...' (Lasdun, 132).
But the similarity between memoir and fiction does not end there. James Lasdun's second novel, Seven Lies, was published in 2006, and is barely mentioned in the memoir. The theme of this novel is plagiarism ‒ an unusual theme for a novel ‒ and the very offence of which Nasreen appears to accuse James Lasdun. The novel is about deception, appropriations of texts, and revenge ‒ themes we find again in Give Me Everything You Have. Previous to that, the most well known short story by James Lasdun was 'The Seige', and it is about a Third World woman with an attraction to privileged European male who is a music composer.
It is indeed distinctive to find so many themes from James Lasdun's fiction manifesting in his life. It is the type of dilemma which a psychoanalyst would find to be revealing.
In an interview with The Spectator, at the time of the publication of Water Sessions in 2012, James Lasdun credits the poetry collection with a memoir-like purpose:
The book [of poetry] is about taking stock of this meandering course of my life. There was this one long poem, 'Water Sessions', which I used for the title of the book because it seemed to bring all the themes of the book together, sort of looking back over life. Part of that poem has to do with my own experience of psychoanalysis: which is a process of taking account of your whole life as much as you possibly can.'
It is surprising to learn that James Lasdun was undergoing psychoanalysis. This is never mentioned in the memoir, yet it is salient to the whole situation. He describes conversations with friends, where he told them over and over again about Nasreen's harassment. Did he not talk about it to the analyst? What was their response?
The only accounts of James Lasdun's psychoanalysis are given in the form of poetry. The poem Water Sessions is well summarized here in the TLS review: 'A witty psychoanalytic dialogue, it finds a therapist intent on getting at the facts, and a patient refusing straightforwardly to discuss an argument with his partner, instead comparing himself to a host of hapless mythological characters.'
For readers of the memoir, this poem can give a moment of astonished recognition. Upon reading it, one realizes that James Lasdun has taken a series of tropes from the poem, and has lightly rewritten them as prose, and presented them in the memoir as reflections about his relationship with Nasreen. In the earlier published poem, these ideas about the angry Goddess and her maledictions (Ceres, Diana, etc.) were ascribed to his arguments with an unnamed woman who threw water in his face. In the memoir, exactly the same series of examples ‒ Ceres, Diana, etc. ‒ is used to describe his interaction with Nasreen, who only ever met him once outside of class, and was surprisingly lowkey. (Lasdun, 213)
In Give Me Everything you have, James Lasdun describes how some emails from Nasreen echoed his fictional works, upon looking back, he could see that the prose turned out: 'to be a sly recycling of something I myself had written ... ' (Lasdun, 21) To judge by this example, he might be describing his own technique. The repetition, once observed, makes the memoir seem much less spontaneous, and more of an exercise in writing than a reaction to a personal crisis.
Throughout Give Me Everything, James Lasdun presents himself as someone living a very quiet and balanced life, which was disastrously torpedoed by Nasreen's campaign of malice. The only way out of this was to create the memoir about Nasreen, and thus to face up to, and gain power over the anxiety to which she had reduced him. The memoir project revived his spirits, even if it was only:
the false excitement of desperation: the knowledge that I had to do something if I wasn't going to jump off a bridge, that writing was what I knew how to do best, and that at this point the only subject I was capable of writing about was Nasreen. ... I had begun to feel I should go to Jerusalem before writing this book. My idea was to situate myself at the geographic and spiritual heart of Judaism so that I could re-examine what I had experienced ... (Lasdun, 166) [emphasis mine]
What an ordeal. However, it might have been some consolation to James Lasdun to recall that he had faced an earlier crisis, which he wrote about in a 2006 essay 'Salad Days' for the London Review of Books. The descriptions of both crises are essentially the same:
About twelve years ago ... I went through a period of disenchantment with the writing life. ... feeble inspiration that left me at the end of each day with pages of drivel and my own version of the feeling Kafka describes in his diary as 'inner leprosy'.... It was clear to me that I needed to take myself in hand. 'You must change your life' ... Among the answers that came to mind, one of the few that didn't involve a rope or a bottle of pills, was that of moving to the country and living off the land. [emphasis mine]
James Lasdun's 2006 essay then describes his adventures in toiling for a while in market garden.
If one looks at either one of these texts, they are compelling, fresh and convincing. Together, however, they appear to be the repetition of a fixed idea, attached arbitrarily to different circumstances.
Politics of the Middle East
The story of a sensitive, morally upright American, viciously attacked by an irrational, malevolent, Iranian, is an encapsulation of the international politics of the 2008-12 era, as seen by Western audiences. James Lasdun himself was aware of the wider significance of the story, and as part of his preparation to write his memoir, he resolved visit Israel, the location and spiritual home of Judaism, in order to ponder the meaning of Nasreen's attacks against him.
It is important to the narrative in Give Me Everything that James Lasdun perceives himself as entering Israel as a liberal sympathetic to Palestinian rights, who has been forcibly obliged to confront the ugly reality of anti-Semitism. As stated by an interviewer in Forward Magazine on 1 March 2013: 'Politically, his sympathy tends toward Palestinians. Consequently, he perceives his situation's oddness ... ' I see no evidence at all in favor of James Lasdun's self-depiction, and indeed I find it faux naive. I am inclined to ask why the question of Palestinian rights should be dragged into a conflict between an Anglo-American and his Iranian acquaintance.
In the event, James Lasdun does not record a single conversation with a Palestinian, nor even a close physical description of any of them, in all of his Jerusalem writings. Most of his anecdotes about Jerusalem and the Middle East conflict are tendentious, and rely upon emotions rather than accuracy. I will give one example.
According to James Lasdun, the military commander who seized the Old City and put it under Jordanian control, not only destroyed the Hurva synagogue, but actually made the following inflammatory statement: 'for the first time in a thousand years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews' return here impossible'. (Lasdun, 104) James Lasdun comments portentously that thinking about the 'strange boast' of the Jordanian commander will make one see the presence of the Jewish population flocking to the Western wall with particular historical insight.
This is indeed a strange statement, and I wonder where James Lasdun picked it up.
In 1948, the Arab Legion, a unit of the Jordanian Army, was led by Abdullah Al-Tal. That quotation, attributed to Abdullah al-Tal can be found on numerous internet sites which are of an extreme anti-Palestinian bent. As soon as one looks up this quotation, which James Lasdun presents as obvious and accurate, one sinks into a morass of propaganda. The quote exists in various wordings, which do not inspire confidence. Even worse is the fact that no one ever provides a source for the quotation ‒ it has no date, nor any exact documentary reference.
One does not find this amazing quotation in the historical writings about the era. I have consulted document collections, histories of the 1948 war, histories of Jerusalem, academic articles, and the recently published biography, Abdullah Al-Tal Arab Legion Officer, by Ronen Yitzhak. All of these sources quote Abdullah Al-Tal, and none of them include the statement presented by James Lasdun.
Elaine Showalter, in her review of Give Me Everything, says that it offers: 'a narrative of the Zionist journey from defamation and destruction to self-defence'. This aspect of the memoir appeals to Western audiences, and convinces them not through information or verity, but through emotions, rhetoric and the power of association.
In April 2013 another writer provided an account of her experiences with Nasreen. Porochista Khakpour, an American woman whose family is Iranian, published a novel, Sons and Other Flammable Objects, in late 2007. In an article in Guernica magazine, she interviewed James Lasdun, and comments on her own situation as one of the people stalked by Nasreen. Porochista Khakpour describes a campaign of hostile emails, vandalism of her Wikipedia page, and insults on Facebook. Porochista Khakpour became an object of animus at the time of the publication of her novel, which Nasreen apparently believed was based on her own writings. One of Nasreen's allegations against Lasdun is that he had unethically circulated her unpublished manuscripts to other writers, in order that they might plagiarise them.
The Guernica interview gives both James Lasdun and Porochista Khakpour a chance to review their experiences, and to comment on the potency of Nasreen's disruption of their lives:
James Lasdun: Really interesting to hear how closely your experience resembles mine ‒ the same threats, the same incredibly upsetting accusations, even the same absurd business of having to do a reading under guard.
James Lasdun and Porochista Khakpour had apparently never met before this interview. Porochista Khakpour reproduces an email which she had sent some years earlier, in an attempt to contact James Lasdun about Nasreen's wild allegations, but as she explains, this email never went through as it was an outdated email address. Porochista Khakpour has also never met Nasreen, and relies upon webpages for information about her. Porochista Khakpour's descriptions of Nasreen are disconcerting:
I was often fascinated by how similar we seemed: visually (though she went out of the way to both make fun of my looks and to say I'd stolen her look), and even our interests (yoga, which I also taught, hip hop, which provided the soundtrack to my adolescence‒even our love of PJ Harvey, Cat Power, and Will Oldham, which I consider rather particular)... And it seems like this person was a real writing student, a journalist, a professor, a yoga teacher‒all things that she shared with me.
If one looks more closely at the life of Porochista Khakpour, one finds even more threads of similarity with Nasreen. It is uncanny. Both used to live in New York, but moved to the West Coast by 2011. Both have described themselves as suffering from illness which drastically reduced their weight. Both have been victims of sexual assault ‒ Nasreen's correspondence, as cited by James Lasdun, refers to her long-term trauma which followed a rape at an office party. In a Dec 2012 article in Slate, Porochista Khakpour writes that at the age of twenty-five she had : 'already gone through all sorts of heinous tribulations that I had convinced myself were female rites of passage‒a date rape in Newark, N.J.; an assault by two men in Martha's Vineyard ...'
There is a certain similarity, also, in their world views, their way of dramatically asserting a sense of outrage, and also, of introducing Iranianism into many different topics. I will give one example from Porochista Khakpour article about American use of firearms, on Slate:
There are so many horrible angles to the Connecticut school tragedy to investigate and contemplate ... Because when we see photos of women in veils in my native Iran holding machine guns, we still think badass. When we see Angelina Jolie with her Lara Croft bandolier, like a beauty-pageant sash around her military sex-doll fatigues, we think hot. ... But even a sweet Connecticut housewife and mother, or a literary geek like me, can get swept up in the false power of guns. It's time to realize what much of gun-loving actually is‒a passion for destruction veiled as protection.
When reading this, one feels that one is in the spectacular world of Nasreen's opinions. But such passing similarities are nothing, compared to the disconcerting fact that Porochista Khakpour, like Nasreen, has a history of using electronic means to stalk people, send false messages, create impersonations, and cause havoc.
In June 2012, Porochista Khakpour published an article in the internet magazine Canteen, which described the illnesses and stress she suffered, in 2007, while awaiting the publication of her novel. She tried various means to alleviate her malaise, such as therapy, yoga and acupuncture but the only thing that helped is: 'Crank calls. This is a truth, sadly ...'
But this time,[in 2007] when I began crank-calling my friends with the assistance of my boyfriend, was something else. We had characters. We called famous people, professional contacts. Some never found out who it was. For one friend, it went so far that he paid to track the phone, a new pay-as-you-go that my boyfriend had recently bought. He was, to put it mildly, pissed. ... To this day, I have not patched up things with about half a dozen victims ... I lost friends I'd had for more than 20 years. What do you say? How do you explain it?
This is extraordinary. How is it possible that the first person who is willing to go on the record as having encountered Nasreen, is another person so like Nasreen, even down to being an impersonator and stalker?
In previous times, such as during the 17th to the 19th century, people suffering from insanity often believed that they had a doppelganger ‒ a copy of themselves, which followed or haunted them. Nasreen might feel that she is one of the last sufferers from this condition.
The question of mental illness wafts around this memoir. James Lasdun has asserted that Nasreen was motivated firstly by an obsession with him, and then by an extraordinary degree of malice. The memoir asks: 'What happened ‒ between us, or to her alone ‒ to make my unremarkable existence matter so much to her?' (Lasdun, 212)
An unflattering, but comprehensive, answer would be that she had major problems ‒ beginning with post-traumatic stress disorder, which then escalated to a severe psychosis which might even have been late onset schizophrenia. However, James Lasdun does not agree with this reading of her behavior, and states that she was a person who was 'using the idea of insanity as leverage for manipulation.' (Lasdun, 194)
The person whom he describes as Nasreen has been outed on internet sites, and is well known to have endured years of major mental health problems, which included hallucinations, medication and even hospitalization. References to this have often been recorded in her online writings, and have conditioned the way that people view her and react to her. It is extraordinary that James Lasdun never mentions this. Either, those who identify Nasreen are mistaken, or else he should be nominated for the James Frey Award for Accuracy in Memoir Writing.
There is a reason why editors who received letters about James Lasdun from his stalker just cast them aside, as described by Nick Richardson, in the London Review of Books, in April 2013. People who live out her fate are separate from the rest of us. As described Nick Richardson, 'she remains alone ... clearly very ill ...'
Give Me Everything is full of ironies ‒ despite being so appalled by Nasreen's descriptions of him, James Lasdun has printed and circulated them. It was he, not her, who published the correspondence. He had a disparaging review by Nasreen removed from the Amazon site ‒ but then reproduces it in his memoir, and thus giving it a much greater readership than it ever would have had.
One reading of the memoir is that Nasreen's fixation on James Lasdun was the only thing that ever made his life remarkable, and that so he takes a pride in it. This might also be the reason for his incapacity to stop the harassment, and his dismissal of the notion that it might all be no more than the abject symptoms of mental illness. However, these are only speculations on my part, and it is difficult to fully judge a relationship when one is given so little relevant information. James Lasdun himself is very firm that from the start he had an antipathy to Nasreen's bad ways, which included circulating other people's emails:
I didn't like being sent this stuff any more than I'd liked it when she forwarded me the email of her old classmate. I didn't like the careless flouting of basic codes of privacy. I didn't like the self-intoxicated tone. (Lasdun, 27)
One can only agree.
The impact of stalking lies not in what the stalker has done, but the fear of what they might be capable of doing.
I wish Nasreen (whoever she is) well and hope that she has sought the help she needs to turn her talents to more productive use.