Photograph: Nina Subin
James Lasdun is a British writer now living in the United States. He has published three collections of short stories, THE SILVER AGE, THREE EVENINGS and IT'S BEGINNING TO HURT, and four books of poetry, A JUMP START, THE REVENANT, LANDSCAPE WITH CHAINSAW, which was short-listed for the 2001 Forward Prize, and WATER SESSIONS. With Michael Hofmann he co-edited the anthology AFTER OVID. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the Paris Review, the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. His awards include the Dylan Thomas Award for short fiction, a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry, and first prize in the 1999 TLS/Blackwells Poetry Competition. He has taught Creative Writing at Columbia, Princeton and New York Universities. Lasdun co-wrote the screenplay for 'Sunday', starring David Suchet and Lisa Harrow, which won both the Best Screenplay and the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature at the Sundance Film Festival of 1997. His story 'The Siege' was adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci into the film 'Besieged'. Lasdun's first novel, THE HORNED MAN, was published in 2002 to superb reviews. His second novel, SEVEN LIES, was published in 2006 and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction. In May 2006 James's short story 'An Anxious Man' won the inaugural National Short Story Prize, sponsored by Prospect magazine in association with NESTA and the BBC. IT'S BEGINNING TO HURT was published in April 2009, and several of the stories were read on Radio 4's 'Book at Bedtime'. James Lasdun's latest book is GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU HAVE (2013).
His new novel, THE FALL GUY, was published by Jonathan Cape in January 2017.
Praise for THE FALL GUY (2017):
‘Exceptionally entertaining… [The Fall Guy is] a cross of literary fiction, thriller and mystery; as David Shields has said, and as good writers realize quickly, “genre is a minimum-security prison.” Maybe the title places it most accurately: Lasdun, after pathogenic proliferation of Girls in crime fiction – gone ones, good ones, train ones, through glass ones – offers us two guys with enigmatic motives, in restrained competition over a woman to whom one of them is married. Which of them will be the fall guy? […] There’s something reptilian in Lasdun’s gaze, a cold-blooded interest in furtiveness, in the lithe selfishness of the genteel. “The Fall Guy” reads like early Ian McEwan or late Patricia Highsmith, and while often novelists who write as finely as he does seem to feel above what Jonathan Franzen once called the “stoop work” of narrative, Lasdun is masterly in his story’s construction. His clues never seem like clues until they bind tightly around one of the three leads. This is exactly what a literary thriller should be: intelligent, careful, swift, unsettling. Its author deserves to find more readers on these shores.’ The New York Times Book Review
'As James Lasdun’s engaging, effortlessly readable literary thriller begins, we have no immediate reason to distrust or dislike 39-year-old Matthew (like the author, a Londoner transplanted to New York) through whose eyes the story unfolds. But on reexamination, the first chapter is sown with the seeds of creepiness that readers of, say, Ian McEwan’s skincrawler Enduring Love will recognise... the whole premise of the novel feels a touch off — deliberately and oh-so-promisingly off... This delight to read is also a fine study in the classic unreliable narrator. Only towards the end are other characters allowed to hold mirrors up to Matthew and reflect very different visions from the one Matthew presents to the reader. A dissonance between the self as experienced from the inside and the self as perceived from without is standard for all of us to a degree, but often widens in a good psychological thriller. Lasdun’s writing style is clean and straightforward. All the complexity resides in character and detail. This is masterfully controlled 2am noir. Who knows what’s up with the option, but me, I’d film this one in black and white.' Lionel Shriver, Financial Times
'To judge from Lasdun's new novel, [Patricia] Highsmith has been an inspiration as well as a consolation. A stealthily nasty tale of social envy and sexual deceit, sifted through the worldview of a damaged outsider skin to a not-so-talented Tom Ripley, The Fall Guy looks very much like Lasdun's stab at a 21st-century remix of his favoured comfort reading, with the comfort stripped out. The early pages crackle with a gut-level sense of malace that it's tricky to pinpoint... Blood spills - I think I can tell you that - and a brilliantly unbearable pivotal scene is erotic, tense and absurd. Even after we get an idea of what's going on, it's still a shock to see the method by which Lasdun relieves the tension he builds so well. Little time bombs of detail are satisfyingly detonated... First time around, you read to find out what happens; but the artistry in this morally complex, coolly seductive portrait of an imploding psyche means that there is plenty to admire on a repeat visit.' Literary Review
'[A] menacing thriller of money and betrayal... The gothic lies in wait, even in the positioning of the guest house where Matthew stays when the main house is full, "an octagonal wooden eyrie with towering black pines behind and the abyss of the vast valley dropping almost sheerly in front". Lines like this prepare us for the catastrophe: though when it comes it's not entirely what we expected and somehow so much worse than we imagined. With its deftly constructed narratives of guilt and buried resentment, The Fall Guy is more accessible than Lasdun's previous novels, and filmic to the point where it can seem like a cleverly fleshed-out screenplay... Matthew shifts and changes with the light, and in the end we're left with the sense of an identity both menaced and menacing, a psyche swinging between anxiety, deep-seated aggression and constant mourning for a life that never quite got going.' Guardian
'Nothing is straightforward in this slick, Highsmithian thriller, and while the damaged Matthew's capacity for self-deception is flagged early, Lasdun's skill lies not least in letting us think that we might therefore have his number. Wrong - and yet the novel's denouement feels fated even as it smoothly steals the breath.' Observer
'The Fall Guy, a thriller of manners, is written in third-person. But so adroit is Lasdun at allowing a reader access to Matthew's past and present thoughts and feelings that it seems like a first-person narrative... This simple-seeming novel, so graceful in its unfolding, proves dense with psychological detail and sly social observations. Its natural momentum is jarred ahead at a crucial point by a dramatic and effective flash-forward, but the plot's inevitable-seeming denouement still delivers the shock of surprise.' Wall Street Journal
'The Fall Guy is a thriller that belongs on the literary top shelf with Graham Greene and Charles McCarry, a thriller in the way Henry James’s The Turn Of The Screw is a ghost story. The thrills it offers are those of narrative and philosophy. It is a moral tale in which Good and Evil do battle in the minds of its characters, and
the story teller is lying to himself — and so to us... Lasdun may be touched with greatness.' Hudson Valley One
UK: Jonathan Cape; US: Norton; Translation Rights: Irene Skolnick Agency
It is summer, 2012. Charlie, a wealthy banker with an uneasy conscience, invites his troubled cousin Matthew to visit him and his wife in their idyllic mountain-top house. As the days grow hotter, the friendship between the three begins to reveal its fault lines, and with the arrival of a fourth character, the household finds itself suddenly in the grip of uncontrollable passions. Who is the real victim here? Who is the perpetrator? And who, ultimately, is the fall guy?
A story of fracture in paradise, where ancient resentments and current desires lurch violently to the surface and an idyllic summer retreat becomes a stage for lies, lust and revenge, The Fall Guy is Lasdun’s most entertaining novel yet: a taut psychological thriller that is superbly written, darkly vivid, with an unforgettably febrile atmosphere of erotic danger.
UK: Jonathan Cape/Vintage (for US & foreign rights: Irene Skolnick Agency)
James Lasdun's new book of poems, his first since his acclaimed collection LANDSCAPE WITH CHAINSAW, applies his characteristic blend of the celebratory and the elegiac to a rich variety of new themes and old obsessions.
At once personal and political, WATER SESSSIONS brilliantly registers the shock waves of global tumult in the most intimately domestic of settings, while at the same time constantly feeling its way outward through private experience into the larger arenas of social and civic drama. Fathers and sons, men and women, desire and repression, art and silence, form the book's central polarities. Recurrent motifs of water and gardens give its wide-ranging subjects a satisfying coherence while also supplying its sometimes darkly urgent poems with a note of intense lyrical beauty.
Much praised for the wit and tensile strength of his line, Lasdun moves in this volume from the tight formality of 'Stones' through the highly original patient/therapist dialogue form of the title poem, to the exuberant free verse of 'Dog Days', with a versatility and intelligence that ensure his standing as one of the most gifted poets writing today.
IT'S BEGINNING TO HURT
UK: Jonathan Cape; US: Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Translation: Irene Skolnick; Media: Christine Glover, APW
James Lasdun is one of the finest short story writers we have. His new collection features the story 'An Anxious Man', which won the inaugural Prospect/BBC competition in 2006. Other stories include 'Caterpillars', which will be published in Granta's December 2008 issue. Set in Britain, France and America (where Lasdun has lived for many years), these stories are beautifully crafted and carry a powerful charge.
UK: Jonathan Cape; US: Norton; Translation: Irene Skolnick; Media: A P Watt
Stefan Vogel grew up in the Big Brother society of East Germany. He describes himself as a poet, and can point to work in obscure literary magazines as proof. But Stefan Vogel lives with a terrible secret. Drawn into the counter-culture world of East Berlin in the 1970s, he meets writers and artists who seem to take him seriously. He also meets a beautiful actress, Inge, and as the wall between east and west is falling, he quickly marries her and persuades her to follow him to New York. But Stefan Vogel's secret will follow him wherever he goes. SEVEN LIES is another virtuoso performance from one of our best younger novelists, the author of the highly-acclaimed THE HORNED MAN.
THE HORNED MAN
UK: Cape; US: Norton; Translation: Irene Skolnick
When Lawrence Miller discovers that his bookmark has mysteriously moved thirty pages on in his current reading, this is only the beginning of a series of apparently inexplicable circumstances in his life. A professor at a minor state university near New York, he has inherited his office from the enigmatic Bogomil Trumilcik. What are these strange objects in this office, including a hefty steel bar? And what connection does Trumilcik have with a number of hideous murders of young women? More importantly, what connection do all these things have to our narrator, Lawrence Miller? In THE HORNED MAN, the distinguished author of short stories and poetry, whose latest collection, LANDSCAPE WITH CHAINSAW, was shortlisted for the Forward Prize, triumphantly pulls off a literary confidence trick.
GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU HAVE
UK: Jonathan Cape; US: Farrar, Straus & Giroux
A true story of obsessive love turning to obsessive hate, GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU HAVE chronicles James Lasdun's strange and harrowing ordeal at the hands of a former student, a self-styled “verbal terrorist,” who began trying, in her words, to “ruin him”. Hate mail—much of it violently anti-Semitic—online postings, and public accusations of plagiarism and sexual misconduct were her weapons of choice and, as with more conventional terrorist weapons, proved remarkably difficult to combat.
James Lasdun’s account, while terrifying, is told with compassion and humour, and brilliantly succeeds in turning a highly personal story into a profound meditation on subjects as varied as madness, race, Middle Eastern politics, and the meaning of honour and reputation in the Internet age.