illustration from NYT Book review
James Lasdun’s Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked is a creepy and compelling story of a teacher-student relationship gone bad, a memoir of being stalked, and an investigation into reputation and identity within 21st-century internet culture. It also touches on other topics including contemporary Jewishness, Israel, and anti-semitism, and a son’s reflection on his relationship with and to a famous father (Lasdun’s father was the architect Denys Lasdun who designed the Royal National Theater in London among other prominent structures).
The Chronicle of Higher Ed ran an excerpt from the book a while ago and I sometimes felt that this narrative’s proper length may have been somewhere between that short piece and this full-length book. Still, it is gripping and smart throughout, with a canny self-awareness about this story’s resonance with a long literary history of Gothic doppelgangers and mysteriously implacable enemies (I thought of, e.g., William Godwin’s Caleb Williams and Nabokov’s Lolita among other such tales). The title of the excerpt, “‘I Will Ruin Him’: How it Feels to be Stalked” evokes one of Lasdun’s major themes: the vulnerability of reputation and personal identity today, its susceptibility to “ruin” through online means. I thought also of the recent story (which on reading, prompted me to go through the minor hassle of setting up two-factor authorization for my Gmail account; you should probably do it too) by journalist Mat Honan that begins, “In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.”
I personally do find it terrifying to reflect on how easily a determined, malicious enemy — or random hacker — can target you and wreak very serious havoc on your life. Lasdun’s story is one of a personal encounter that goes wrong, but part of the takeaway from his story is the ease with which anyone can today do you harm through digital means. There are a lot of Iagos out there on laptops and smartphones.
The book ends with the situation unresolved: his stalker, Nasreen, is still hounding him, posting invented accusations on online sites (she claims Lasdun raped, abused, and manipulated her in countless other ways, including plagiarizing her writing and stealing her work), emailing employers and colleagues, and so on. It’s irresistible to look for possible signs of her activity out there now that the book has been published. For example, there’s this recent Amazon review: “This was such a boring book. It was awful. I can’t believe this guy teaches writing…and no, this is not Nasreen writing (although your paranoid and egotistical self will probably think it is).”
And I found this one fascinating:
As a recovering stalker, this has changed my life,March 13, 2013
By Buckshot – See all my reviews
I was never as menacing or hateful as Nasreen, I never was talked to by the police or given any threats about legal action, and I never smeared my professor’s name, but in most other ways, this story is shockingly parallel to my life experience. The stalking took place in Western NY with my creative writing professor, between the years of 2007 to (well, today I had to send him a blurb about this book as a goodbye). That’s several years of unwanted emails. Which, like Nasreen’s, came in ‘fevers’ between silences. Sometimes addressing him like an ‘ever-dependable mentor’ and sometimes in a phase of hyperbolic disgust, sprinkled throughout with coherence and self-reflexive apologies, even humor. I relate to Nasreen so deeply, her existence gives me some strange relief. The author treats the subject with the respect and humanity that I always hoped I would be seen with. The increases in frequency of these unwanted emails correlates to times in my life that are more stressful and filled with doubt, as they probably did for Nasreen. The chasm between how I seem in real life (coy, near-mute, clumsy) with how I am in the emails is similarly jarring. For christsake I even used to use the phrase, “intimacy terrorist.” At times, I thought this book was written under a false identity of my professor. He kept a solid silence up, that confuses me to this day, but reading this book I think I understand what it’s like from the other side, and I don’t want to inflict that on anyone. I don’t want to be pathological. Again, I was never as extreme or punitive as Nareen, but the frequency and intensity of my emails are similar, and the origins and reasons for the attachment, nearly exact.