LASDUN ARCHITECT & SON

 

 

 

Fifteen years ago, the British-born writer James Lasdun was sent a series of email messages by a star pupil of his in a New York creative writing “workshop”. Nasreen, an attractive woman of Iranian descent, radiates sexual allure and flirtatiousness. Before long, her emails contain disturbing personal disclosures; they accuse Lasdun of literary plagiarism, as well as, dreadfully, rape. The New York Police Department refer the case to the “hate crimes” unit; the messages, a daily cyber-abuse, cause Lasdun to question his worth as a writer and son of a famous British architect (Denys Lasdun designed London’s National Theatre, as well as, notably, the University of East Anglia’s brutalist mega-structure). Lasdun’s non-fiction account of his internet stalking, Give me Everything You Have, frightens like an unlucky number.

 

 

His discomfiting new fiction, Victory, reprieves similar themes of obsessional love and sexual harassment. Middle-aged academics find themselves “blindsided” by women students; talk is of one-night stands and shabbily deceiving husbands. Made up of two novellas, the book feels distinctly autobiographical in parts. ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ is narrated by the son of a “well-known architect”, who finds himself drawn into a drama of sexual harassment after an English journalist friend is accused of historic rape. Set during the months prior to Trump’s election, the novella conjures the emotional misery and disarray attendant on predatory sexual advances. The journalist in question, Marco Rosedale, is about to be “exposed” in a memoir by his ex-lover Julia Gault. In Galt’s memoir he stands accused of sexual assault . Is any of it true? Should Marco bring charges of defamation? President Trump, a “serial harasser”, hovers over the novella like a bad smell. A story for our times, ‘Afternoon of a Faun’ goes to the heart of questions of male irresponsibility and sexual self-control.

 

 

‘Feathered Glory’, an equally brilliant morality, looks at the amorous upsets and other travails of Richard Timmerman, an American school principal. Richard is astonished when a former lover, Francesca, turns up unexpectedly one day as a jazz singer. In a Lower Manhattan nightclub he watches transfixed as she croons her own wry, sexually self-aware ballads. In his early fifties now, Richard yearns to sleep with Francesca again. Memories of his extra-marital affair with her surface grievously as his wife Sara, a textile designer, begins to question his fidelity. Sara’s New Age friend Carla, a “wildlife rehabilitator”, meanwhile persuades her to take in a wounded swan. The swan requires feeding and other care; symbolically or not, it physically attacks Richard on his return from the New York nightclub. ‘Feathered Glory’ confirms Lasdun as one of the great, serio-comic writers of the age. The writing, alternately poetic and razor-sharp cynical, absorbs from start to finish.