A Review of James Lasdun’s Give Me Everything You Have

Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, by James Lasdun

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2013)

(218 pages, hc, 29$)

Ostensibly an account of poet/novelist James Lasdun’s traumatic struggle with a former student and self-stylized “verbal terrorist” whose increasingly volatile cyber-stalking evolves into an online smear-campaign aimed at ruining the author, Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, is also a book filled with thought-provoking riffs on middle Eastern politics, journalistic ethics, and George Eliot’s claim that “the last thing we learn in life is our effect on other people”.  

Some reviewers have bemoaned the lack of dramatic “pay off” in the book, while others have questioned its very existence due to its risky legal and ethical dimensions (it quotes real source material, hate emails, etc, and stops just short of naming names). Its precarious mingling of fact and fiction and Lasdun’s own expressed ambivalence about the whole project, “the necessity of using private emails in a story about accusations of plagiarism and violations of privacy was an irony I was going to have to come to terms with,” add layers of complicity and complexity to what is in some ways a strained public defence of the author’s own “good name”.  I think this strange mixture of awkward self-consciousness and the digressive and culturally varied manner in which Lasdun evokes (whether it’s through Gawain the Green Knight or Zoroastrian religion or ruminations on poetic craft) the personal dimensions of what is by all accounts a harrowing ordeal including public accusations of sexual misconduct and plagiarism, are what give this book its off kilter appeal.  

Certainly, this is not a book for everyone, and it is more rhetorical and meditative than its somewhat sensationalistic title would suggest, gaining momentum in degrees that attain a kind of psychological slow burn, a quality for which Lasdun has been celebrated in both his poetry and intellectual thrillers. Give Me Everything You Have is ultimately a writer’s account of being cyber-stalked, and it is probably writers, and/or readers sympathetic to the self-doubt and vacillation of the neurotic mind struggling to attain self-knowledge, that will ultimately be rewarded by Lasdun’s account of descending into “the realm of stricken enchantment in which technology and psychology overlap, where the magical thinking of the primitive mind, with its susceptibility to spells, curses, witchcraft of every kind, converges with the paranoias peculiar to our own age.”  

Jesse

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