“Give Me Everything You Have”: A Memoir About Being Stalked

In the new book Give me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, novelist, poet, and nonfiction writer James Lasdun recounts the true story of his victimization by a 30-something female cyber-stalker, a former college student of his he calls “Nasreen.” From the book description:

Hate mail, online postings, and public accusations of plagiarism and sexual misconduct were her weapons of choice and, as with more conventional terrorist weapons, proved remarkably difficult to combat. James Lasdun’s account, while terrifying, is told with compassion and humor, and brilliantly succeeds in turning a highly personal story into a profound meditation on subjects as varied as madness, race, Middle East politics, and the meaning of honor and reputation in the Internet age.

Portraits of Both the Stalker and the Victim

Nasreen herself acknowledges that she’s a “verbal terrorist.” Molly Fischer, Slate: “She is a nightmare-scenario case study in exactly how easy it can be to ‘ruin’ someone online, or at least to bother him very, very much, to the point where he begins to feel like he’s the one going crazy.”

A few reviews into researching Give Me Everything You Have, I find a stand-out theme: Lasdun is perceived as somewhat averse to analyzing Nasreen’s pathology, which leaves some critics frustrated.

Molly Fischer, Slate: “What a reader might find to be a more persuasive understanding of her behavior—that it’s a product of mental illness—Lasdun admits that he prefers to ignore.”

Gerald Jacobs, Telegraph: “Nasreen’s threats, though upsetting, tend to be indirect, dismissive and couched in Hollywood cliché. It is when she turns to anti-Semitism that this basically clever girl’s mind shows itself to have become severely deranged (a possibility Lasdun is remarkably slow to admit).”

Emma Garman, The Daily Beast:

…(T)he one weakness of Lasdun’s account is the extent to which he views Nasreen as a literary figure, and her vitriol as part of some timeless, mythical drama, rather than acknowledging the obvious truth: she is deeply mentally ill. Admitting that his motives are partly literary, that someone with a psychiatric disorder is not a ‘morally engaging antagonist,’ Lasdun is also understandably reluctant to absolve Nasreen of the agency and responsibility that sanity entails, which is perhaps why he shies away from digging into her actual condition. The NYPD detective, on reviewing her rage-filled emails, astutely diagnoses her as ‘borderline.’ Lasdun chooses to interpret the word as a mere metaphor. To deal with Nasreen, he marvels, is to be ‘confronted by something unassuageable and beyond all understanding: a malice that has no real cause or motive but simply is.’

Garman adds that Lasdun’s Give Me Everything You Have actually contains “the most concisely accurate definition ever written” of borderline personality disorder (BPD). If you’re unfamiliar with the term, the National Education Alliance Borderline Personality Disorder defines BPD as “a disorder where individuals have extreme difficulties regulating their emotions. Problems include intense anger, chaotic relationships, impulsivity, unstable sense of self, suicide attempts, self-harm, shame, fears of abandonment, and chronic feelings of emptiness.”

Fischer’s review ends with a parallel drawn between stalker and victim:

Give Me Everything You Have is most revealing as a psychological portrait of lives split online and off, and difficulty of weighing what happens in one world against the other. Nasreen’s behavior and Lasdun’s response suggest different solutions to the same problems: They’re both struggling to keep themselves in balance, without the steady certainty of solid ground.

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