March 26, 2019

Can a Man Write a #MeToo Novel?

“When Afternoon of a Faun, the new novel by James Lasdun, landed on my desk, I knew only two things: that this was a #MeToo novel about rape allegations written by a man, and that this man had already written a nonfiction book denouncing a woman for trying to ruin his reputation. Needless to say, these conditions boded ill.

Lasdun is best known for his 2013 memoir, Give Me Everything You Have, an account of his stalking by a former student, whom he gives the pseudonym Nasreen. She wreaks havoc on his life with wildly abusive emails, ranting voicemails, and attacks on his character that eventually extend to his family and professional contacts, including prospective employers. She accuses him of stealing her work and selling it to Jewish-Iranian writers, and of playing some unspecified role in her rape (though she never actually accuses him of raping anybody). Veering between proclamations of love and hate, Nasreen—who is Iranian-American—frames their relationship as one of structural oppression, Jewish man against Muslim woman. Give Me Everything You Have is a meditation on brushing against another person’s pathology, one which frays the boundary between fiction and real life.

How would such a searing experience affect a novel about #MeToo? Biography is not usually the business of literary criticism. A critic ought to be interested in people qua people, and literature qua literature. But the eerie parallels between Lasdun’s novels, his memoir, and Nasreen’s own writing demand that we read Afternoon of a Faun in an unusual way—with one eye on the page, and one eye on the real world.”

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