James Lasdun

James Lasdun would welcome any information on Baron Maurice de Hirsch.

Fishing for Potatoes: Nissan Rogue

James Lasdun, 27 January 2022

Late​ in the evening on 29 December 2019, two men posing as musicians wheeled a pair of large audio equipment cases to the gate reserved for private jet passengers at Osaka’s international airport. The cases were too big for the regular X-ray machines, and the airport staff, no doubt exhausted from a long day processing holiday travellers, waved the men and their cargo through. Out on...

The plot​ sounds like Joseph Roth at his most cynically extravagant: a demobbed soldier, down on his luck, has a chance meeting with a political agitator on the rise, and the two forge an alliance that propels the soldier onto the world stage. He marries a rich American opera singer, governs an African colony, conducts an epic legal battle with the Vatican, embroils himself in the darkest...

Bats on the Ceiling: The Gospel of St Karen

James Lasdun, 24 September 2020

The​ Tenth International Congress of Coptic Studies was held in September 2012 at the headquarters of the Order of St Augustine in Rome. Among the speakers was Karen King, the first woman to hold the Hollis Professorship of Divinity, Harvard’s oldest endowed chair. King had made her name as an interpreter and champion of early Christian texts that asserted the spiritual authority of...

Beyond​ a few tabloid stories, the Westboro Baptist Church didn’t really hit the news until 2005, when its members started picketing funerals of soldiers killed in the Iraq War, with signs declaring GOD HATES FAGS, THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS, THANK GOD FOR IED’S and THANK GOD FOR AIDS. The combination of homophobia and anti-military sentiment was puzzling, but once you learned...

Extreme Gothic Americana

James Lasdun, 6 June 2019

In August 1970​ Mary Lou Maxwell, a seamstress married to a Reverend Willie Maxwell, was found beaten and strangled to death in her Ford Fairlane on a quiet road near her home outside Alexander City, Alabama. The reverend, who had purchased several life insurance policies on his wife, was tried for her murder but acquitted after their neighbour, Dorcas Anderson, recanted some earlier...

Diary: Police procedurals

James Lasdun, 8 September 2011

I’ve often fantasised about writing a police procedural series. Sometimes the fantasy gets to the point where I start sketching out ideas, but invariably I come up against the double problem of my ignorance of how the police actually proceed and my private veto against fiction requiring serious research. So I stop. But something made me try again, and a few months ago I came home from...

Diary: Salad Days

James Lasdun, 9 February 2006

The alternative career fantasies of writers would make an interesting study: James Joyce dreaming of becoming the agent for Irish tweeds in Trieste, Thomas Mann musing that he would have made a good banker, Samuel Beckett contemplating a career as a pilot. ‘I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot,’ Beckett wrote to Thomas MacGreevy at the age of 29, having just published More Pricks than Kicks. ‘I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read. It was not as though I wanted to write them.’ The spurs to fantasy in his case were failure and rejection, which he suffered on a grand scale – one of the reasons his biography makes such consoling reading for struggling writers.

Diary: with the rent-collector

James Lasdun, 21 October 2004

It is rent collection day in the buildings my neighbour Fernando owns in the nearby town of Kingston, New York. For some time Fernando has been urging me to join him on his rounds. He takes a protective but also frankly spectatorial interest in the lives of his tenants, following their dramas with the fascination of a soap opera addict. Most of them are on Welfare or Disability or Social...

Diary: Losing in Las Vegas

James Lasdun, 4 March 2004

My old friend Chris, who works for Channel Five, has invited me to go with him to Las Vegas, where he is attending the Natpe TV marketing convention. We’re staying at the Mirage, a tropical-themed hotel with its own rainforest and volcano on the main Vegas Strip. The long back wall of the lobby is a coral reef aquarium with sharks, moray eels and clownfish. To get to your room you have...

Poem: ‘Mr. W. H.’

James Lasdun, 5 February 2004

Not that bloodlines – family or otherwise – have ever meant much to me, but at forty one wants forebears almost as much as heirs, and even though the oblivion we’re headed for is doubtless total, it feels somewhat lonely heading there orphaned, or lonelier than not.

Of course every poet appoints his own ancestors but that’s one thing if you’re Auden enlisting...

“Ovid’s chain reactions of transformation emit a liberating energy like nothing else in literature. Occurring always at some limit of human capacity or tolerance, they have something of death in them, something of birth, something of sex, but something else, too: a mysterious reverse flow, whereby the things people turn into – tree, rock, flower, fountain, bird, beast – miraculously release their own potentialities back into the human universe of the poem.”

Poem: ‘The Skaters’

James Lasdun, 3 January 2002

Their town’s the quaint one: the board won’t let it sprawl more than a half-mile from the green’s little pool-table of grass and shiny tulips where Santa lands in winter and the teens play hackysack all summer. There’s no mall,

no motel either, which is just what they want; they voted for the good life there; they can afford it: no fast-food chain, no sixplex,...

Poem: ‘Returning the Gift’

James Lasdun, 2 November 2000

for Nicholas Jenkins

For my birthday my wife gives me a chainsaw; a shiny blue Makita, big as our child, heavy

as an impacted planet. On every part of its body the makers have slapped red warning stickers: Stop! Danger of Death! Do Not Operate

Unless Experienced! The manual elaborates: kickback, where the blade bucks back through your neck; blinding by woodchip or exploding fuel,

death by...

Two Poems

James Lasdun, 4 February 1999

Birch Tree with Chainsaw

for Pia

Five months; five cords of hardwood; ash mostly, hickory, oak; greying in the weather, by April starting to rot, outsides sodden by May, too crumbly even to splinter.

But then to uncover the first layer; white birch, bright with the whiteness that whitens your hands like chalk; flesh-coloured wood still firm in its sheath of papery bands, flaw-lined like...

Two Poems

James Lasdun, 24 March 1994

General McClellan

Pride, questioner, and pride’s obverse, fear; Fear of failure. The Times of London Noted my Air of Success. Our grand Potomac army loved me as I’d planned. I was Napoleon. I snubbed Lincoln. Think if I’d obeyed him: one swift strike, Rebellion over, slavery intact, Oneself in office ... I couldn’t act. What if I should fail? My ranks Glistened like...

Poem: ‘Oxblood’

James Lasdun, 24 February 1994

Mid-October, our Blackjack oak Peppers the tar-paper roof with its ripened acorns; Day and night, two weeks of it, Priapic Scattershot clattering down With every gust of wind from the mountain; I stare outside. Impossible to sleep, think, work;

Into my mind a memory comes: Another oak, the King Charles oak That stood in our garden at home; Survivor of summer lightning and winter storms, The...

Poem: ‘Erisychthon’

James Lasdun, 8 July 1993

After Ovid


The scene: a town under mountains; Clapboard, shingle and brick, the usual Straggle of shopping malls, post-colonial Factory outlets and fast-food chains Thinning upward through scant Cattle pastures then woods Where the hulk of a disused chemical plant

Drips and leaks. This was built by one Erisychthon, who as it happens Also built the malls and the fast-food chains, Outlets too...

Poem: ‘The Accomplices’

James Lasdun, 23 May 1991

A small man thumbed us down and sidled in Dusting the seat with a quick flick first, his wrist Thin enough to snap like a candy bar; Runt-of-the-litter frame, mid-twenties, shivering, A little drunk, ‘You folks Headed for Cromer’s Hatch?’ We weren’t, But the day being cold, and this good turn so easy, We said we’d take him just the same. He thanked us, then with...

I’ll have to kill you: ‘The Fall Guy’

J. Robert Lennon, 20 April 2017

It isn’t until​ the halfway point of The Fall Guy, James Lasdun’s thrillerish new novel, that we are treated to its first overtly criminal act: breaking and entering. This book is...

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Internet-Enabled: Stalking James Lasdun

Nick Richardson, 25 April 2013

How do you feel about someone who loves you but wants to ‘ruin’ you; who massages your ego as she damages your career?

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‘A woman threw her glass of wine at me,’ James Lasdun’s second novel begins. At a party held by a wealthy philanthropist in New York, a woman walks up to the narrator and asks:...

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At the beginning of James Lasdun’s novel, Lawrence Miller, a professor of gender studies at a college on the outskirts of New York, is interrupted while reading a book. When he returns to...

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Getting on

Humphrey Carpenter, 18 July 1985

‘My idea of what a novelist should do is an old-fashioned one,’ says a character in the title story in Isabel Colegate’s collection A Glimpse of Sion’s Glory. ‘I...

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