Review: Give Me Everything You Have, James Lasdun

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.

American cover
American cover
British cover
British cover
  • Shannon @ River City Reading

    Really glad you wrote this. I’ve been wanting to read the book since I heard Lasdun interviewed on NPR. Knowing that the book seems to stray off course (and the interview was pretty extensive), I’d probably be frustrated reading it.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, I’d have been happier sticking to the long interview, frankly. In fact I think I will go see if I can find the audio interview and give it a listen! I’ve only read an article about Lasdun’s experiences, not heard him speak about them.

  • Nish

    Wow, I read those links you put up, and it’s scary just how much damage a stalker can do. I don’t know about the book, but I feel for the guy, How awful!

    • Gin Jenny

      I know, it’s awful. It’s even worse when you remember that Lasdun’s stalker doesn’t even get as crazy as many stalkers do — it doesn’t sound like he felt like he was ever in physical danger from her.

  • rhapsodyinbooks

    Love this: “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.” Yes, yes, yes, so true of many men judging women who are abused, stalked, or WHATEVER

    • Gin Jenny

      VERY true of many men judging abused/stalked/assaulted women. It’s not that Lasdun’s judging other stalking victims; it’s that he doesn’t even seem to think about them. :/

  • Sharon

    Ugh, I had to stop reading this book in the middle. As you say, his actual account of the stalking is interesting enough, but sometimes I felt like he wanted to write a memoir but didn’t have anything interesting to write about until this happened, so he tried to put all his Deep Thoughts into this book. I really disliked him, not just as a “character” but as a writer.

    • Gin Jenny

      Kind of me too! I agree, there wasn’t enough here for a memoir — although truly I think there could have been, if he’d come at it from different & more relevant angles.

  • Athira

    Sounds like this book could have been a very engrossing title but for the issues you mentioned. I will keep it on my radar but I probably won’t be rushing to read it.

    • Gin Jenny

      I think you are safe just reading the article he wrote. It’s very interesting and contains almost all the good stuff that’s in the book anyway.

  • Ana @ things mean a lot

    I was going to quote the same bit as Jill. I don’t think I’d be able to read this in any case, but yeah.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yeah, I think it’s very missable.

  • Vasilly

    I’m going to skip this one. If I read this, I would also wondered why the author didn’t read about stalking. I agree with Jill and Nymeth on the rest.

    • Gin Jenny

      Yep, do it. It’s fine to skip.

  • NWK (@MumsyNancy)

    You know, I never thought about the vast majority of people being stalked…I read this as a one-off. How shallow of me! Also, like Sharon, I just didn’t like Ladrun. Can’t put my finger on why, but I sort of pictured him as a goatee-stroking, vain academic. Unfair of me, no doubt. She does sound like an absolute nightmare.

    • Gin Jenny

      I pictured him a bit that way too. :/ And then I felt guilty, like I was victim-blaming. (I don’t blame him at all.)

  • litlove

    You are as ever so very lucid and persuasive when arguing your case. I do kind of think, though, that if someone has truly suffered at the hands of a stalker, reading about what other stalkers do isn’t going to make any impact on what they have been through. It’s like having an operation and suffering medical negligence, and then reading about other medical negligence cases. Would a person then feel better about what they’d experienced? I’m not sure they would. Experience is SO powerful and overwhelming, and thoughts generally have little effect on feelings. I didn’t read the last section as being about understanding Nazreen through the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians, though it’s too long ago now for me to remember what I DID think he was doing there! It was the weakest section of the book for sure, though, whatever its motivation.

    • Gin Jenny

      Mm, I disagree, actually! I think stalking is distinct from what you’re talking about because in Lasdun’s case, it was ongoing, and is still ongoing. If nothing else, I’d have wanted to read the research to find out what in God’s name I should do about the impossible situation I was in.

      You are right about the last section. I was being glib, I’m afraid!

  • Grad

    I read this post and I thought to myself, “I’ve read about this book somewhere…sometime.” But I had forgotten about it. I’m glad I read your review. I might check it out of the library, but it probably would not merit me plunking down the money to buy it for my personal library.

    • Gin Jenny

      No, nor me. I wish I’d just read the article and not the whole book, really.

  • Anbolyn Potter (@anbolynp)

    It scares me no end that stalkers pretty much have free reign to harass and antagonize. I would be interested in reading about the psychology of stalkers rather than only about how a particular culture shaped their behavior. I’m always wanting to know the why and I would think others would be interested in that too; surprising that Lasdun didn’t really focus on that.

    • Gin Jenny

      Ugh, me too. Did you read that article Amanda Hess wrote a few days ago about cyber-harassment and how little can be done about it under current laws? She’s a feminist writer so she gets a lot of death threats. It was a frightening article.

  • Aonghus Fallon

    I read an edited extract in the guardian a few months ago. While an interesting article, I didn’t think there was enough material to justify a book, but maybe that’s just me? By extension, I’m guessing Lasdun didn’t bother reading (and detailing) typical stalker behaviour precisely because he was anxious to establish what made his story distinct from similar accounts as opposed to what made it typical – hence the Jewish/Palestinian angle.

    • Gin Jenny

      Not just you! Your instincts are perfectly correct. And truly I think the story would have been distinct from “typical” stalking stories just on the grounds that it’s usually guys stalking ladies. I think Lasdun could have written some interesting things about what stalking is in this world, and what can and can’t be done about it legally, and how his situation differs from the norm because he’s this white well-known dude, and she’s this unknown woman of color. He talks about it some, but not really in the context of other stalking. Missed opportunity, in my view!

  • Aonghus Fallon

    Yeah, exactly. His experience is entirely atypical because of his gender and his privilaged status (in comparison to Nasreen’s) and that’s its only real selling point. Even so, he might have won himself a few more readers if he’d put it in context.