Lasdun, James 1958–
Lasdun, James 1958–
PERSONAL: Born June 8, 1958, in London, England; son of Denys Louis (an architect) and Susan (a writer and designer) Lasdun; married. Education: Bristol University, B.A. (with honors), 1979.
ADDRESSES: Home—Woodstock, NY. Office—Council of the Humanities and Creative Writing, Princeton University, 185 Nassau St., Princeton, NJ 08544.
CAREER: Poet, editor, and author of fiction. Affiliated with Publisher's Reader, London, England, 1980–86; Columbia University, New York, NY, instructor in creative writing, 1987; Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, instructor in creative writing, 1987, then lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Creative Writing; New York University, New York, NY, instructor in creative writing, 1988–91; Bennington College, Bennington, VT, instructor in creative writing.
AWARDS, HONORS: Dylan Thomas Award for short fiction, 1986; Sundance Film Festival best dramatic feature and best screenplay awards, 1997, for Sunday; Times Literary Supplement poetry competition award, 1999; United Kingdom National Short Story Prize, 2006, for "An Anxious Man"; Eric Gregory Award for poetry, Society of Authors; Guggenheim fellowship for poetry.
The Silver Age (stories), J. Cape (London, England), 1985, published as Delirium Eclipse and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1986.
A Jump Start (poetry), Secker & Warburg (London, England), 1987, Norton (New York, NY), 1988.
Three Evenings (stories), Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1992.
(Editor, with Michael Hofmann) After Ovid: New Metamorphoses (poetry), Faber (London, England), 1994, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1995.
The Revenant (poetry), J. Cape (London, England), 1995.
Woman Police Officer in Elevator (poetry), Norton (New York, NY), 1997.
(With Pia Davis) Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria (nonfiction), Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.
Sunday (screenplay; based on one of Lasdun's short stories), Double A Films (New York, NY), 1997.
The Siege and Other Stories, Vintage (London, England), 1999, published as Besieged, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.
Landscape with Chainsaw (poetry), Norton (New York, NY), 2001.
The Horned Man (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 2002.
Seven Lies (novel), Norton (New York, NY), 2005.
Coeditor of Straight Lines, 1979–84.
ADAPTATIONS: The title story from Lasdun's collection The Seige and Other Stories was adapted as a film titled Besieged by Bernardo Bertolucci.
SIDELIGHTS: James Lasdun is an accomplished storyteller and poet who has found an audience both in his native Great Britain and in America. His multiple awards include citations for poetry, short fiction, and screenwriting—the last from the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. He is also the editor of the popular poetry collection After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, which features retellings of Ovid's poems by modern authors, including Seamus Heaney, Glyn Maxwell, and Ted Hughes. A reviewer for Economist called After Ovid "racy, memorable and vividly contemporary." The same comment might apply to Lasdun's own work, which "repeatedly flings us into verdant vibrancy," to quote New York Times Book Review contributor Ken Tucker.
Lasdun first garnered acclaim with Delirium Eclipse and Other Stories (published in England as The Silver Age), a collection of unsettling short fiction. In the title tale, for instance, a man stares into an eclipse while visiting a holy city in India. Consequently, he becomes feverish and fantasizes that his lover is having an affair with the manager of their hotel. He then begins to suspect that she is actually seeing the manager illicitly. In another story "The Siege," a young maid is subjected to solicitations and gifts from her infatuated employer. Occasionally she is induced into a semi-hypnotic state by an unusual melody that the master plays at the piano. When the master begins peddling his belongings in order to finance the release of the maid's husband from a foreign prison, employee-employer relations become further complicated. Among the other disturbing tales in Delirium Eclipse are "Escapes," where a married man traveling on business plots a random infidelity only to become increasingly mad in his unfamiliar surroundings; "Dead Labor," in which a writer's Marxist leanings are undone by a seductive editor's sensuous literary style; "The Spoiling," which charts a child's gradual discovery of power over his divorced mother; and "Snow," where a young man recalls his obliviousness to an aunt's infidelity with a neighbor.
Delirium Eclipse earned Lasdun widespread praise. John Blades, in his review for the Chicago Tribune, described Lasdun as a "versatile, mature and accomplished storyteller," and he acknowledged Lasdun's "mastery of the short form." Washington Post Book World reviewer David Streitfeld was similarly impressed, noting that Lasdun's writing is "evocative and sharply detailed" and declaring that "Delirium Eclipse is the most auspicious first collection of stories to come out of England" since the mid-1970s. Still more accolades came from New York Times reviewer Michiko Kakutani, who deemed Lasdun "an inventive storyteller" and recommended his work as a "sparkling collection." Jonathan Penner, writing in the New York Times Book Review, contended that the best tales in Lasdun's collection serve as an indication of "a valuable literary career." Penner added that "Lasdun is a writer to watch, but first to read."
Lasdun's poetry collections include A Jump Start, The Revenant, Woman Police Officer in Elevator, and Landscape with Chainsaw. Simon Rae, in a Times Literary Supplement review of A Jump Start, noted Lasdun's "cornucopian vision" and the poetry's "glittering brilliance." Rae also affirmed that Lasdun's poetry "is rich in visual imagery." New Statesman contributor Adam Newey found the chainsaw imagery in Landscape with Chainsaw "an endlessly variegated symbol of man's (and especially a rather diffident Englishman's) ambivalent relationship with the American wilderness." Newey concluded: "This is a terrific book and I hope to hear more from [Lasdun]."
In the mid-1990s Lasdun adapted one of his short stories, "Sunday," for a dramatic feature film of the same title. The movie explores the interaction between two middle-aged New Yorkers who meet by chance in Queens. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter, Sunday won the Grand Jury Prize at the 1997 Sundance Film Festival. Lasdun also received an award for his screenplay. Nation critic Stuart Klawans wrote: "As pictures about desperate, leftover people go, Sunday is pretty arty … Nossiter's moody excursions through the streets and subways are a pleasure to watch; the dialogue, by Nossiter and James Lasdun … is unusually sharp." Klawans added: "The intelligence and care that have gone into the picture are … manifest."
In 2002 Lasdun published his first novel, The Horned Man. It tells the story of Lawrence Miller, a feminist scholar and professor of gender studies, who finds himself embroiled in a nightmarish series of events that he must untangle in order to save his job and his sanity. Josh Cohen, writing for Library Journal, described the psychological thriller as "like Franz Kafka entering the Twilight Zone, full of literary allusions and a suspenseful plot that twist into past events and into Miller's psyche." New York Times Book Review contributor Emily Nussbaum also cited "echoes of Kafka and Poe" and called The Horned Man "a quick and addictive read" as well as "an evocative meditation on the male terror that a misstep might mean being first a creep, and then a criminal." Greg Eden, writing for New Statesman, noted that The Horned Man is "intermittently dazzling but over-stylized," while a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called it a "startling, brilliantly mysterious debut novel."
In Lasdun's second novel, Seven Lies, he examines life behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War. The narrator, Stefan, grows up in East Germany; he escapes from the Communist regime and takes on a series of identities as he makes a new life in the West. "Sly, witty, and just allegorical enough to make one reflect," this is "bracing and accomplished entertainment," stated a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. John de Falbe, writing in Spectator, called Seven Lies "lean and artful, assured but never self-regarding."
Commenting on his transition to writing novels, Lasdun told Robert Birnbaum in an interview for Identity Theory: "There is something about writing a novel, that calls upon such a breadth of experiences—it's such a big commitment doing it. You enter a novel, you are not going to be at the other end of it for at least several months and probably several years."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Chicago Tribune, September 5, 1986, John Blades, review of Delirium Eclipse and Other Stories.
Economist, April 15, 1995, review of After Ovid: New Metamorphoses, p. 82.
Library Journal, April 1, 2002, review of The Horned Man, p. 141; September 1, 2005, Barbara Hoffert, review of Seven Lies, p. 43.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 15, 1987, p. 14.
Nation, September 8, 1997, Stuart Klawans, review of Sunday, p. 36.
New Statesman, July 16, 2001, Adam Newey, "The Inner Lumberjack," p. 55; March 4, 2002, Greg Eden, review of The Horned Man, p. 55.
New Statesman & Society, December 16, 1994, Jonathan Bate, review of After Ovid, p. 71.
New York Review of Books, November 6, 1997, Helen Vendler, review of Woman Police Officer in Elevator, p. 57; January 15, 1998, Bernard Knox, review of After Ovid, p. 34.
New York Times, June 14, 1986, Michiko Kakutani, review of Delirium Eclipse.
New York Times Book Review, August 3, 1986, Jonathan Penner, review of Delirium Eclipse, p. 12; August 19, 2001, Ken Tucker, review of Landscape with Chainsaw, p. 17; April 14, 2002, Emily Nussbaum, "Fear of Blushing," p. 25.
Publishers Weekly, March 11, 2002, review of The Horned Man, p. 51; August 1, 2005; September 5, 2006, review of Seven Lies, p. 43.
Spectator, February 11, 2006, John de Falbe, review of Seven Lies, p. 43.
Times (London, England), September 18, 1985.
Times Literary Supplement, November 20, 1989, Simon Rae, review of A Jump Start, p. 1275; February 28, 1992, review of Three Evenings, p. 25; August 25, 1995, David Herd, review of The Revenant, p. 23; September 21, 2001, Stephen Burt, review of Landscape with Chainsaw, p. 29.
Variety, February 3, 1997, Joe Leydon, review of Sunday, p. 42.
Washington Post Book World, August 24, 1986, David Streitfeld, review of Delirium Eclipse, pp. 3-4.
Identity Theory, http://www.identitytheory.com/ (February 14, 2006), Robert Birnbaum, interview with James Lasdun.