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Katy Waldman on James Lasdun

At the New Yorker, Katy Waldman sees traces of autofiction in James Lasdun’s new novel, Afternoon of a Faun, which presents itself as social realism blended with elements of a thriller:

Lasdun’s writing 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. The book achieves a state of suspension that is at once fascinating, draining, and dismal — 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. It also owes to “Faun” ’s autofictional elements. Biographical echoes invite us to read the narrator — and, to a lesser extent, his foil, Marco — as alternative-reality versions of Lasdun. At times, Faun feels squarely in the space of Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk, Sheila Heti, and others. But here, Lasdun marries autofiction to the more obviously stylized genre of the psychological thriller, deploying cliffhangers and the trope of the unreliable narrator. This is a neat idea: autofictional garnishes on a suspense novel can create a sense of claustrophobia, or become an eerie extra quotient of human consciousness, as if another pair of eyes were watching.