Long before reading Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (affiliate links: Amazon, B&N, Book Depository), I read this article Lasdun wrote about acquiring a female stalker he calls Nasreen, and this discussion in Guernica Magazine between Lasdun and another writer who was targeted by Nasreen. (I was glad the second article existed because I like to have independent confirmation when there is a case as ugly and inexplicable as this one.)
Nasreen was a student in a creative writing course Lasdun taught, and they corresponded by email for some time after. Nasreen’s emails became increasingly frequent and obsessive, and at length, abusive. She gradually escalated her behavior from sending abusive emails to Lasdun to sending abusive emails about him to his professional contacts: his agent, his publisher, universities with which he was or had been affiliated, etc. Though Lasdun went to the police and even to the FBI to try and get her to stop, nobody was able to help.
As sometimes happens, writing notes for this review led to my talking myself out of the book. Lasdun spends about half the book discussing the events, and the other half trying to find a context for them. This is okay when he sticks to literary context — he is, after all, a literature guy — but becomes dramatically less interesting when he tries to relate Nasreen and her behavior to his travels in Israel/Palestine.
Because really what draws you about this sort of story is the mechanics of the outlandish: Here occurs an improbable event X, and now what is it like, what are its practical effects? It’s like becoming obsessed with her back even though you don’t want to be; it’s like finding yourself a boring conversationalist because all you can think and talk about is this insane behavior that you didn’t ask for and can’t escape from. Give Me Everything You Have is at its best when Lasdun sticks to this.
Here is what I truly cannot understand about Lasdun’s attempts to contextualize Nasreen: He doesn’t read about stalkers. Or if he does, and if he finds out anything interesting, he does not relay it to the reader. He tries to understand Nasreen by looking at the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, but he does not try to understand her by looking at research into other people who do the exact thing Nasreen is currently doing. Or perhaps he did try to understand her this way and found it not applicable to his own situation and so did not write about it?
Obviously it is not down to me to tell Lasdun what sort of book to write, what sort of response to have to his stalker. He does not have to read research about stalkers if he doesn’t want to. But for all of his woe and self-recrimination, there is an unpleasant odor of indignation and injured dignity and that couldn’t (surely) (right? you would think?) survive the reading of a couple of papers about how stalkers behave and why and how they escalate. Lasdun is aware of his privileged position in relation to Nasreen, and says so, but it’s not at all clear that he’s aware of how privileged he is in relation to the great majority of victims of stalking, and the book suffers from the missing context.
Cover report: Variations on a theme, and the British cover does it better.