Victory

February 2019 (Jonathan Cape, UK)

 

“[Victory makes] a case for James Lasdun as one of the most incisive investigators of the human heart writing in English today…” Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Observer

Love and hate, desire and guilt, friendship and betrayal form the coordinates of these two intensely dramatic stories of men and women caught between their irrational passions and the urge for control.

In Feathered Glory the seemingly happy marriage of a school principal and his artist wife reveals dangerous fault-lines as an old lover reappears in the husband’s life and the wife, fascinated by a charismatic wildlife rehabilitator, brings an injured swan into their home. The poignant denouement leaves every character irreversibly transformed.

The past also haunts the present in Afternoon of a Faun, where an accusation of historic sexual assault plunges Marco Rosedale, an English journalist in New York, into a series of deepening crises. Set during the months leading up to Trump’s election, this is at once a study of our shifting social and sexual mores, and a meditation on what makes us believe or disbelieve the stories of other people.

These two short novels reflect and complement each other, offering a darkly comic, sharply observed vision that will resonate with anyone interested in the clash of power and desire in our embattled contemporary lives.

“[Victory makes] a case for James Lasdun as one of the most incisive investigators of the human heart writing in English today… [Feathered Glory is] a subtle, well-judged story about restraint, rapture and regret. But it’s Afternoon of a Faun that feels like the main event, an instant masterpiece that brings the taut psychological precision of a Chekhov story to a hyper-modern, post-#MeToo setting…Lasdun’s limpid, muscular prose cuts to the heart of midlife anxieties…If future scholars want to know what the hell was going on with sex and power at this moment in history, Victory won’t be a bad place to start.” Johanna Thomas-Corr, The Observer/Guardian

“James Lasdun’s brilliant new book…spreads implication like condensed flavor crystals that dissolve in water. By the end of the novel, he has examined every corner of the narrator’s conflicted psyche and surveyed an ever-shifting social question without once resorting to cliché…one imagines oneself, along with the narrator, vacillating forever, doubting, arguing both sides, weaving and unweaving webs of justification and delusion. But an objective truth does exist here, and, finally, Lasdun reveals it. The shock of this moment owes to how tightly the book’s psychological mechanisms are wound” Katy Waldman, New Yorker Page-Turner

“James Lasdun’s new book is actually two novellas, Feathered Glory and Afternoon of a Faun, and the headline act is clearly the second tale. Both explore uncomfortable corners of the male psyche with eerie clarity, but Afternoon of a Faun goes darker and further, with a timely and irresistibly unpleasant story that is sure to provoke passionate discussion…each time we feel that we can definitively decide where to put our sympathies, the story jostles and unbalances us with new insights….In an age of loud invective and binary solutions, there is something wonderful about Lasdun’s scrupulous recording of doubts and uncertainty… [Lasdun] tells us, almost at the outset, that he feels some final truth should be achievable. Reality “was something that existed outside the human mind, and independently of it … not a prize awarded to whoever fought hardest and dirtiest”. It’s some achievement that by the end of the story, you feel he has stayed true to this, but also true to the novelistic task of representing the characters in all their complexity… Afternoon of a Faun that lingers after you have closed the book with a vividness that testifies to the compact virtues of the novella.” Marcel Theroux, The Guardian

 “darkly humorous and compelling” Alex Preston, the Observer

 “two mesmeric, stand-alone stories…containing beautiful descriptions and subtle twists” Mika Ross-Southall The Sunday Times

“fascinating about the warped thought processes that often underpin male duplicity. In elegant and supple prose, Lasdun documents the leaps of logic and sly rationalisations… Afternoon of a Faun has a propulsive energy, as both reader and narrator yearn for an answer to the question: is Rosedale’s accuser telling the truth? The denouement, when it arrives, is shocking — with the journalist revealed to be far more capricious than his friend thought possible. As a man, reading these two novellas in tandem doesn’t make one feel proud of one’s sex. But they are stories that ought to be read — not just for their insights into “toxic masculinity”, but for what they tell us about ways in which men think.” William Skidelsky, Financial Times

“James Lasdun is my favourite ‘should be famous’ writer, his work extraordinarily taut and compelling. His eye-boggling psychological thrillers are understated, yet perspicacious and hilarious…Unwittingly (because he started them before the furore), Lasdun has written two superb novellas for the #MeToo age, published together in Victory. Both explore themes of lust, transgression, self-delusion and male friendships…Lasdun expertly demonstrates how inner moral structure is often built on the scaffolding of tenuous and arbitrary rules and self-justification. The complexity of male friendship is also wryly assessed…enthralling.” Leyla Sanai, The Spectator

In a world of conspiracies, denunciations, allegations and alternative facts, the very nature of reality is at stake, as truth and the past become no more than questions of character and reputation in the present: who do you trust and why? Afternoon of a Faun grippingly interrogates these questions… The novellas are united by Lasdun‘s signature virtues: a forensic attention to psychological detail, a mastery of dialogue and an all-around fluency that gives his prose a compelling swiftness. It is these virtues, more than the plots, that make Victory a triumph.” Frank Lawton, Literary Review

“brilliant…confirms Lasdun as one of the great serio-comic writers of the age.” Ian Thompson, The Tablet

“A classic He Said, She Said scenario plays out in Afternoon of a Faun, which examines the nature of truth and asks whether the onus of belief must always be on the believer, spooling between past and present. Marco, is accused of committing a sexual assault in a memoir written by an old flame. He confides in a boyhood friend, the English narrator of the story, the son of a well-known architect, a writer and teacher of creative writing in New York, who lives in upstate New York, and whose sympathies shift constantly as the riveting story unfolds.” Jackie McGlone, Glasgow Herald

 “[James Lasdun’s] electric new book… is absorbing… [it] constantly pulls the rug from under your feet.” Anthony Cummins Daily Mail

“Of the novels to come out of the #MeToo moment to date, none is more riveting, insightful, and unsettling.” Kirkus Review (Starred Review of Afternoon of a Faun)

“….a powerful social commentary….This novel comes to a brilliantly ironic conclusion that will leave readers reeling” Publishers Weekly review of Afternoon of a Faun

Afternoon of a Faun is a brilliantly imagined, devastatingly insightful and powerfully rendered novel of sexual exploitation and betrayal. Like all of James Lasdun’s work, it is meticulously written and intelligent, both a novel of ideas and a cautionary tale for the #MeToo era. Its ending is bitterly ironic, or perhaps just darkly funny, depending upon one’s perspective – and Afternoon of a Faun is about the very drama of “perspective”.” Joyce Carol Oates

“In an era of sexual reckonings and “defunct male prerogatives”, any decades-old fling is a ticking time bomb an ambivalent ex can choose to detonate at whim. Yet who’s to say what actually happened? Afternoon of a Faun is an exquisitely rendered tale of moral arithmetic, erotic murkiness, and men’s fascination with other men’s scorecards. It’s also Lasdun at his most pleasurably diabolical.” Laura Kipnis

Feathered Glory was first published in The Paris Review