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If you are thinking about buying this book, then you are surely aware of its foundation. The author, James Lasdun--a writer, a teacher--is being stalked by a former student whom he calls Nasreen. This is not a novel, it is a literary memoir. Thus, I feel compelled to state that this book is most definitely not a pulp thriller or a true-crime story of suspense, as some of the marketing material may imply. This is a deep introspective investigation of how one feels when a nefarious character burrows into the psyche and pops the protective sphere in which they live. Comparisons to literary figures, both fictional and real, abound in Lasdun's quest to understand what is happening to him, and why.
At the beginning of the book, it is clear that Lasdun mowed down some warning signs from Nasreen as if piloting an Abrams tank, but then again, it is easy to say this with the benefit of hindsight. It would be simple to say that he opened the windows of his fortress to allow access to the toxic cloud. But this is to misunderstand the insidious nature of the stalker. The ease with which Nasreen first portrayed herself as "friend" by morphing into exactly that which Lasdun wanted to see is merely the commencement of her shapeshifting manipulation. What happens from there on out is nothing short of chilling. Lasdun's comparison of Nasreen's effect on him to voodoo or a curse was, to me, brilliant. The horrifying alteration of his life can be felt with every word; the helplessness and frustration are manifest. Having been the subject of an internet stalker myself, I can understand his fear and second-guessing to at least a small degree. Hence, I can also understand the desire to fling this story out in the most public way in order to take back ownership of his life, particularly after he receives little or no help from law enforcement.
But this is where I arrive at the question of whether this book is ill-advised (some may consider the paragraph below to contain spoilers, so please read with caution). First, there is the quite obvious issue that Nasreen accuses him of using her emails to produce a literary work, and that has actually come to fruition in this book, although most certainly not in the sense of "stealing" ideas. Next, there is the more prosaic issue: is it wise, or even ethical, to write a book about a stalker when that stalker is still quite actively pursuing the target? Lasdun discusses this possibility in the text, but dismisses it rather quickly, in contrast to the very detailed, intelligent probe of other aspects of this debacle. From this book, Lasdun appears to be unaware of the scientific literature on mental illness in general and the burgeoning research regarding the psychological phenomenon of internet stalking in particular. But perhaps he is not; perhaps that is not the point of this book at all. It does concern me that Nasreen has shown no sign of slowing down and that she is now targeting one of his children. As Lasdun argues, though it may indeed be an oversimplification to say that Nasreen is "just" mentally ill, it seems to me, at least, that she is. Whether Lasdun intended this book as a provocation or not, it appears that it may be taken that way by Nasreen; in turn, this book may contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy of never-ending torture by a stalker.
To sum up, this is the most controversial and thought-provoking book I have read in years. I already know that it is going to reside in my thoughts, close to the surface, for a long time. While I reiterate that if you are looking for a paperback novel of suspense, this book will probably not meet your expectations, I also strongly recommend this book for its fascinating analysis of the anguish caused by the modern-day stalker.