In the autumn of 2003, the poet, novelist and short story writer James Lasdun was teaching a fiction workshop at a college in New York City. Among his students was a quiet, reserved woman in her thirties to whom he gives the fictitious name of “Nasreen” in this memoir.
Two years later, in December 2005, Nasreen e-mailed to ask if he would read a draft of her now completed novel.
He declined, but offered to put Nasreen in touch with his agent. An “amicable e-mail correspondence” ensued.
A meeting followed, at which Nasreen handed over the draft, which Lasdun had agreed to read. Here the story takes an ominous turn. As the correspondence continued, Nasreen appeared to be proposing an affair. Lasdun retreated briskly with “I really am extremely happily married and don’t particularly want to go on having this correspondence if it’s going to be like this,” he says. A gracious response arrived from Nasreen: “I’m sorry if I got screwy on you,” followed, after an interval, by a deluge of e-mails – up to a dozen a day – at first amorous, but rapidly spanning a spectrum of emotion, from reproachful to hostile to violently abusive.
Lasdun’s literary agent, the academic institutions where he taught and the publications for which he wrote, all became the targets of violently anti-Semitic e-mails accusing him of plagiarism, sexual harassment and “emotional and verbal rape”.
With no sign that his tormentor’s energy was flagging, Lasdun resolved to tell the story of which he had become the reluctant protagonist.
It is natural that he should wish to protect his wife and children from further distress.
But his inability to do more than glance at the questions of love, flirtation, fidelity and the nature of the marriage bond itself, is a problematic omission from a thoughtful and courageous memoir. – The Daily Telegraph