James Lasdun

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Photograph: Nina Subin

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Books

James Lasdun was born in London in 1958 and now lives in the US. He has published three novels, four collections of poetry and four books of short stories, including the selection The Siege, the title story of which was made into a film by Bernardo Bertolucci (Besieged). His most recent books are Bluestone: New and Selected Poems and The Fall Guy, a novel. With Jonathan Nossiter he co-wrote the films Sunday, which won Best Feature and Best Screenplay awards at Sundance, and Signs and Wonders, starring Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgaard. With Michael Hofmann he edited the anthology After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. With his wife Pia Davis he has written two guide books, Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, and Walking and Eating in Provence. His essays and reviews have appeared in Harper’s, Granta, the London Review of Books, The New York Times, the Guardian and the New Yorker.

His work has been widely translated and won numerous awards, including the inaugural BBC National Short Story Award. He has been a finalist for the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Forward Prize and the LA Times Book Prize. His first novel, The Horned Man, was a New York Times Notable Book, and his second, Seven Lies, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. 

His new book of fiction, VICTORY, which comprises the novellas 'Feathered Glory' and 'Afternoon of a Fawn', will be published by Jonathan Cape in February 2019.

Praise for VICTORY (2019):

'"Afternoon of a Faun” is a brilliantly imagined, devastatingly insightful and powerfully rendered novel of sexual exploitation and betrayal.  Like all of James Lasdun’s work, it is meticulously written and intelligent, both a novel of ideas and a cautionary tale for the #MeToo era.  Its ending is bitterly ironic, or perhaps just darkly funny, depending upon one’s perspective—and “Afternoon of a Faun” is about the very drama of “perspective.”' Joyce Carol Oates

'In an era of sexual reckonings and “defunct male prerogatives,” any decades-old fling is a ticking time bomb an ambivalent ex can choose to detonate at whim. Yet who’s to say what actually happened? "Afternoon of a Faun" is an exquisitely rendered tale of moral arithmetic, erotic murkiness, and men’s fascination with other men’s scorecards. It’s also Lasdun at his most pleasurably diabolical.' Laura Kipnis

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

Fiction

Publication DetailsNotes
2017

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.

WATER SESSIONS

2012

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

2010

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.

SEVEN LIES

2007

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

2003

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.

Non-Fiction

Publication DetailsNotes

GIVE ME EVERYTHING YOU HAVE

2013

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.