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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and terrifying
James Lasdun's tale of being stalked by a writing student he scarcely knew, a woman he had been kind to, is riveting. It went on for years, the threats, the fake emails to employers and friends, the endless anti-Semitic slurs, the attacks on websites, the constant assault on his integrity ... I stop here because I'm astounded by the story of what Lasdun endured.
The...
Published 18 months ago by Clarissa

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2.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent but incurious - a bad combination
Being stalked online is a ghastly experience, and the Internet being the abrasive place it is, it's a subject that most people would be happy to see well analysed. This story is well written, but a great many people seem to find it unsatisfying, and I think the reason is fairly simple: the author is evidently reflective, but has tremendous blind spots in his thinking. The...
Published 14 days ago by Hello


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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and terrifying, 21 Feb 2013
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Clarissa (Toronto, Canada) - See all my reviews
James Lasdun's tale of being stalked by a writing student he scarcely knew, a woman he had been kind to, is riveting. It went on for years, the threats, the fake emails to employers and friends, the endless anti-Semitic slurs, the attacks on websites, the constant assault on his integrity ... I stop here because I'm astounded by the story of what Lasdun endured.
The genius of the book is Lasdun's change in the way he viewed himself, as though he were guilty of something he couldn't identify. The book walks steadily onwards, like footfalls in the dark behind you.
Lasdun is a profoundly intelligent man who recounts his suffering calmly. What goes unsaid is that this could happen--in fact of course it has happened many times--to anyone at all, for any reason. Lasdun has a marvellous talent for spareness and analysis. There's something heartbreaking about that. Anyone else would have been screaming.
This is the real-life version of Ian McEwan's novel, Enduring Love. It is painful to read but fascinating and enlightening.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More than the title suggests, 15 Mar 2013
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Stalking is always an intriguing subject and it brings to mind all sorts of ideas. But in this book, intertwined with the author's harrowing experience of being stalked by his former student, is also a sort of study on how we use culture and race as emotional and social tools. We relate to one another culturally and racially, but in the same space, when things turn nasty, we use both as weapons of emotional destruction. An obsessive admiration for her former teacher turns into a violent verbal onslaught of social and racial abuse, creating more than angst and anxiety in the author. Stalking is emotional torture and it is designed to mentally destabilise and emotionally demoralise its victim. The victim almost becomes as mentally unstable as the stalker, as he is stripped of his peace of mind. It is interesting to see how the author not only deals with his stalker, but with himself and who he is as a father, a husband, a son, a Jew, a writer, a teacher. All aspects of who he is as a person is under attack by his stalker. A very intelligent book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An interesting insight into the head of a stalker., 14 Mar 2013
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Read with caution as the usual signals are all here - names changed, etc. This could easily be the work of someone attempting to salvage their reputation after all. But I think not, and I hope not. I think we probably all know someone like 'Nazreen'. We have all at one time or another attracted the attention of someone we subsequently regretted. In this field Mr Lasdun seems to have 'bought the Tee Shirt'. Well worth a read. It may just change how you use email in future. It may make you consider very carefully everything you have ever written by email. Ever.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent but incurious - a bad combination, 17 Aug 2014
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Being stalked online is a ghastly experience, and the Internet being the abrasive place it is, it's a subject that most people would be happy to see well analysed. This story is well written, but a great many people seem to find it unsatisfying, and I think the reason is fairly simple: the author is evidently reflective, but has tremendous blind spots in his thinking. The book appears to be a lot less intelligent than he is - or at least, than I hope he is. By the end, I think a lot of people will put it down with the nagging sense that Lasdun could have done better than this.

The basic story is simple: meeting a talented young writer in his fiction class, Lasdun singled her out for praise and fell into a correspondence with her which became increasingly inappropriate, larded with flirtation and overstepped boundaries, and which after some hesitation he decided to end. 'Nasreen', the young woman in question, escalated her pursuit of him, finally declaring 'I will ruin him' and dedicating herself to daily hate mail and a relentless online and professional smear campaign. At the time the book ends, there appears to have been no clear conclusion to the whole business - Lasdun seems to have written it at least in part because he wanted a public record that would counter-balance her public accusations. Fair enough.

The book is well written. Many people note that the opening chapters are gripping but that for readers looking for a thriller experience, it changes once he's finished describing Nasreen's behaviour; after that, the book moves into his personal reflections on reputation, society, writing and religion, becoming a kind of travelogue in which he makes some personal pilgrimages - first to his beloved D.H. Lawrence's house and then finally to the Wailing Wall. The Jerusalem trip seems to have been taken to help him get some perspective on the Nasreen incident: a Muslim herself, she based a lot of her abuse on anti-Semitic slurs while comparing herself to a victimised Palestinian. It is not a very satisfying conclusion narratively, but then real life doesn't provide neat endings. The problem is, it isn't a satisfying conclusion thematically either.

Here's the thing.

To begin with, the book's themes are rather meandering. Lasdun writes (attractively) of reading his favourite books and finding comparisons to his own situation in them, for instance: it's a neat literary trick, but a skilled writer can compare anything to anything, and there's no inherent link between Herge or the Gawain poet and his personal problems - none that mean anything to a reader, at least. The only thing they have in common is that they're relevant to him, and the book does not initially present itself as a purely personal memoir.

But more than that, it seemed ... well, reprehensibly incurious in certain ways. Stuck in his psychological comfort zone, and unwilling to venture outside it even while he purports to wonder what this strange young woman is thinking (and quotes her personal correspondence apparently without her permission).

At one point, critically, he describes talking to a policeman about his harasser; the cop remarks that she reminds him of a relation of his own who suffers from borderline personality disorder. Lasdun gets interested in the word 'borderline', playing around with it in a writerly way, but at no point does he actually go away and study up on what borderline personality is, or is supposed to be. He doesn't study up on mental illness at all, in fact. The closest he comes to considering it is when, 88% into my Kindle version, he considers his own reluctance to see her as mentally ill:

"I can't quite accept this. For one thing, 'mental illness' carries an implication that the sufferer isn't aware of the possible consequences of his or her actions and therefore shouldn't be held accountable for them. That seems reasonable in cases of real insanity, but however afflicted Nasreen may have been, she was obviously, calculatingly, tauntingly aware of the possible consequences of her actions, and by her own admission dead set on bringing at least some of them about ('I will ruin him'). For another, the very proclamations of her own 'insanity' seem precisely evidence that she was not insane, but rather that she was using the idea of insanity as leverage for manipulation.

Even as I write this, though, I am aware of the possibility of mixed motives in what I myself am doing. I have a strong vested interest, after all, in claiming that Nasreen was fundamentally sane. I want to hold her responsible for her behaviour. I tell myself that this is simply because I believe it to be the case. 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 literary one. As soon as you reduce human behaviour to a pathology - label it 'psychotic' or 'sociopathic' - it becomes, for literary purposes, less interesting (at least to me)."

A small amount of study would turn up the fact that a person can be mentally ill and still exercise choice about how to behave - he himself acknowledges depression within his family - and that mental illness and personality are not mutually exclusive but intricately entwined. It's a common assumption, particularly with older generations, that psychology is just a matter of labelling people like the pill bottles a shrink hands out and that it's somehow more fascinating and literary to assume an entirely willed self, but that he, a self-proclaimed person that words "stuck to", didn't appear to go so far as looking the word up before defining it on his own terms, seems to lack rigour. He doesn't bother to look into it before committing his story to press, and I find that hard to respect.

Instead, his only interest in psychology is to talk about Freud, and there, he's mostly interested in Freud's relationship with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism becomes more and more his theme as the book goes on, the final section focusing around a visit to the Wailing Wall with very little said about his stalker at all. Nasreen used anti-Semitism as part of her campaign against him, but the extent to which he focuses on it by the end carries the implication that he sees it as her primary motivation, while her emails (quoted) suggest something more complicated: that creative frustration, personal problems and possibly sexual trauma were at least as potent forces as anti-Semitism, for a start, as she mentions all of them in profusion.

And as to the anti-Semitism itself ... it's a difficult subject, and one that Lasdun doesn't handle well.

Nasreen, a Muslim attacking a Jew both from the victim and persecutor position, both alluding to Israeli violations of Palestinian rights and throwing around Nazi references, is presented as someone inclined to recruit historical trauma to cast her sense of victimisation as both comprehensible and unquestionable. Lasdun's trip to the Wailing Wall feels more like a flight from complexity than a journey into insight, and so has an ironic echo of Nasreen he does not seem aware of. It's simpler to write her off as a a straightforward anti-Semite, but that's not what he's shown her as being. It's just the only element of her he is, by the end, interesting in thinking about - because, perhaps, it's the element he needs show the least pity.

Meanwhile, his reflections in Jerusalem themselves are well below the standards of observation you'd expect from his literary style. Look at some of his statements put side by side:

When he talks of Israeli hate speech against Palestinians being filmed:

"Even as you register the shock, though, you find yourself cringing at the uncanny way in which the rituals of modern protest recall the ancient gestures and geometries of Jew baiting: camera-wielding protesters getting in the faces of the religiously garbed, increasingly agitated settlers, pushing and goading them until they come out with the terrible thing - the racist comment, the fanatical religious self-justification - that will stand as their portrait, their panel, for as long as the living fresco-cycle of YouTube survives."

At the same time he attacks critics of Israel for making offensive comparisons to Nazism and apartheid by saying:

"The urge to condemn people in their capacity as wrongdoers gives way mid-expression, mid-breath almost, to the apparently stronger urge to bait them in their capacties as Jews. The propensity for Judaism to keep drawing this kind of archaic lightning out of educated people even after the Holocaust seems an intrinsic part of its curious time-dissolving effect. Or put it this way: there is something uncannily adaptive about anti-Semitism: the way it can hide, unsuspected, in the most progressive minds."

Meanwhile, when he criticises Israeli violence, he does it like this:

"You begin to wonder if these settlers with their rifles and prayer shawls ('Guns 'n' Moses' is a popular T-shirt logo in Jerusalem) might not be enabling ancient impulses that once manifested themselves as straightforward bigotry, to regroup under the banner of justice."

In other words, when Jews say bad things about non-Jews, it's because they were provoked by anti-Semites; when non-Jews say bad things about Jews, it's because they're anti-Semites, and when Jews do violent things, the worst thing about it is that they might enable anti-Semites.

Now, in the name of charity we should allow that the man was writing this having been the target of prolonged and vicious anti-Semitic abuse, and he wouldn't be human if the subject wasn't on his mind. But at the same time, here's how he talks about reading Tintin with his son:

"...our favourite Tintin book, The Blue Lotus, or, as I have somehow permitted myself to call it, The Brue Rotus; regressing, in my son's company, to the soft racism that pervaded the world of my own childhood, where nobody thought twice about mimicking foreign accents for a cheap laugh. The Tintin books, being all about encounters with foreigners, encourage this kind of low humour when it comes to reading them aloud. They contain a great deal of the comic racial stereotyping of their time. Being of my own time, I have felt obliged to talk about this with my son, explaining to him that the comedy is OK only because it is directed equally at all cultures, including Tintin's own, and because it is also largely without malice."

I quote at length because I don't want to do him the injustice of taking his words out context ... but even in context (and the discussion of Tintin's racism ends there), the language is mostly nostalgic, racism being "soft" and "comic" and something that he has "felt obliged" to question as if compelled by something other than his own wishes. Let's assume he isn't familiar with the horrors of "Tintin in the Congo", but even so, he admits his own perpetuation of racist jokes with his six-year-old son more with an air of regret for having to qualify it - the cause is much more whether it's 'its time' or 'my own time' rather than any issue of right or wrong - while simultaneously insisting that objectionable remarks about Zionism are caused by a deep, unacknowledged malice towards Jews.

Adding all that up - while I sympathise with his being stalked, and I don't think the harassment was caused by any of these things ... I find him hard to like. He makes racism a subject of his book, but prejudice against his own people is the only kind he really seems to take seriously.

It frustrates me, because I wanted to like him. But he's too blind to himself, and fundamentally too hypocritical and selective. Perhaps it's the cornered inflexibility of somebody still being harassed - nobody's at their best in the middle of a hate campaign - but I think it may also be the nature of the beast: to accept that he was merely the near-accidental victim of someone's madness would be to deprive himself of a subject, or at least to require him to put his own anxieties and neuroses in some kind of perspective. It could be done, but it doesn't seem to suit his writing style. And it's frustrating too because he can be perceptive and eloquent. It's just that he's only perceptive and eloquent about his own feelings, and actively resists thinking about subjects that might call on him to reconsider them.

Importantly, he himself acknowledges elements of the stalking that he then does not explore. Nasreen's declared fear of having her ideas stolen and her inability to start a successful career as a novelist, for example, which in fact seems to have become contagious as her harassment made it impossible for him to focus on his own writing either. Mental dysfunction is often both bad for art and liable to rub off on those who encounter it, but Lasdun doesn't seem inclined to explore the way her enmity created writers' block for both of them. The result is that her enmity makes him a worse writer in this book as well.

Speaking as someone who has been cyber-bullied, if not harassed to the same extent Lasdun was, what he does describe is familiar and well evoked. He talks about how he must in the early days have underestimated his effect on Nasreen, because the impact of a recognised writer affirming the talent of an aspiring one is always somewhat cataclysmic. "I have to assume," he says, "or at least admit the possibility, that Nasreen had in fact been highly flustered by my admiration and that, as with my [similar past experience of a teacher's praise], the experience had transformed me from a teacher respected merely out of convention into a figure of heightened power, similarly implicated in her fate; similarly crowned, robed and enthroned in her imagination." And this indeed seems like an important association: often people online bully from the declared position of victim because somebody has "heightened power" in their eyes on a subject crucial to their personal dreams or sense of value, and then turns vicious when that person fails to exercise that "heightened power" to validate them as they would wish. As Lasdun says of Nasreen, "The essence of bullying is to convey the impression that the bully is the representative of a group, a majority, a consensus, while the victim is all alone." A person with supposed "heightened power" is always seen as the representative of a group too, the imagined inner circle one aspires to or envies - the literary world, in Lasdun and Nasreen's case - and often cyber-bullying is an attempt to counter-create a group of one's own, attempting to crush one's object in the belief that one is merely levelling unfair odds.

Lasdun worries and worries at why Nasreen did what she did. The answer strikes me as fairly evident, if not simple or clean: she was unhappy in her life and resented his lack of willingness to save her; she was struggling to finish her novel and found the ancient recourse of misdirecting creative energy into finding justifications for failure. It's easier to work up an explanation in which you're too victimised to do something difficult than it is to do the difficult thing. If your inability to fulfil a dream frustrates you, finding a scapegoat can transform that frustration into heady indignation. Envy is always easier to cope with if you can pretend that your object's envied possession was stolen from you rather than just coveted by you: that way, you can justify wanting it as wanting it *back*. Disappointment sounds more justified when you call it betrayal.

It's an interesting book on an important subject, but ultimately I found it frustrating. Its literary diversions felt like just that, diversions from what he had presented as the main point: intertextuality is a difficult trick to pull off and his writing did not feel enough "recollected in tranquillity' to navigate the line between reference and rambling. Its treatment of Nasreen was at once intrigued and abstract; really it felt as if he was too enmeshed in the psychic conflict to be willing to take a full step back. Reality checks can feel like losing the war when you're right in it. But in the end, it felt like a book he wasn't yet ready to write; ready to write a simple account, but not an intertextual and socio-political reflection. This book feels like the first draft of a book that maybe, a decade from now, could be rewritten to work well - but this is not that book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Could not put this down!, 23 Oct 2013
This review is from: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (Hardcover)
Lasdun's writing is enviably sharp, edgy, succinct. No wasted words: they simply sing from the page. Ordinarily I would not be interested in reading an account of a stalker, just not my thing, yet I simply could not put this book down. I finished it over the course of an evening.

Perhaps even more chilling is the ending - well, there IS no ending...

I now find myself wondering, what has happened? What has happened to Nasreen?

If only all writers had Lasdun's talent: to take the facts of a personal story and then weave them into a gripping taut account that takes on mythic emotional proportions.

Lasdun's gift is to beckon us into his world. His writing demands that we become part of his landscape, part of his unremitting struggle to free himself from his stalker.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A revealing memoir, 26 Jun 2013
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This is James Lasdun's true story of being cyber-stalked for years by an ex-student whom he calls Nasreen. His initial friendliness and interest in her work were misread by Nasreen as expressions of love, though Lasdun was and is happily married and denies any flirtatious behavior. When he started receving increasingly suggestive emails he tried to back off from the relationship, only for Nasreen to oscillate between violent messages of love and even more enraged cries of hatred and revenge, mixed with anti-semitism. 'I will ruin you,' she wrote, and made every attempt to do that over the years with a stream of messages to colleagues, institutions and literary websites accusing Lasdun of plagiarism of her work and (somehow) rape by proxy. Lasdun has spent many years not only trying to get her to desist but also having to repair the reputation Nasreen has made every effort to tarnish.

I read this account as part of some research I am conducting on erotomania. I found it interesting, initially compelling, though eventually Nasreen's rantings became wearisome to me (imagine how Lasdun must have felt having to suffer them day after day). Other reviewers have found Lasdun's diversions into literature and Jewry tedious but on the whole I thought the analogies he found to his situation in such varying works as 'Sir Gawain and the Green Knight' and 'Strangers on a Train' quite illuminating. His own train journey, where he confesses to sexual temptation and guilt, is introspective writing of real quality. I admire his honesty in examining his own motivations and shortcomings. The book meanders and eventually peters out in Jerusalem - I thought his attempt to associate the balled-up messages posted in the crevices of the Western Wall with Nasreen's barrage of emails unconsciously self-aggrandising and grandiose as a metaphor. This is too clearly the author in search of an ending which has not presented itself in real life.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stalking in a modern world, 1 May 2013
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This review is from: Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked (Hardcover)
Before reading this book, I imagined (as I assume most of us do) that 'stalking' as an activity was largely a physical thing (following, verbal abuse, etc) but what this book does is highlight the possibility we now face as individuals of having our identity, not only stolen, but manipulated through the use of the internet. Lasdun puts the reader into the uncomfortable position of what it is like to experience a level of harassment most of us will be lucky enough never to encounter. By reading this book, you are able to experience the torment Lasdun has gone through, whilst sitting comfortably, and safe, anonymously behind his words.

This book has had such a profound affect on me that I even looked at the negative review and wondered to myself "Is that Nasreen?"... As i'm sure Mr Lasdun has done already. I would have commented on the negative review if it wasn't for the fear it was her, and didn't want to be subject to such abuse myself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 24 Mar 2013
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John Foster (Bournemouth, Dorset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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Really excellent writing and many interesting and useful references. Liked the references to Patricia Highsmith and Strangers on a Train - very interesting. Couldn't understand why James didn't simply change his email address if this attention was really unwanted, but this adds to the compulsive ambiguity of the piece. Really absorbing.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A scary story, 14 April 2014
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traveller (stirling, scotland) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent account of how it feels to be cyber-stalked, as the author suffers attacks on his reputation, his professionalism, and his personal life through e-mail, social media and other online forums. It is quite shocking to see how easily someone can intrude into your electronic life which then has huge implications for your 'real' life, not least your mental and physical wellbeing. What was also concerning was the apparent lack of options for legal action to deal with the problem. A worthwhile read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The perils of the net., 31 Mar 2014
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A fascinating to tale of a chance encounter, which turns the spotlight onto the work of the cyber bully. Whether it is also a look a mental illness is harder to decide.
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Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked
Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun (Hardcover - 14 Feb 2013)
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