James Lasdun’s latest novel is Afternoon of a Faun. Born in London and now living in the US, Lasdun has published three novels, four collections of poetry and four books of short stories, including the selection The Siege, the title story of which was made into a film by Bernardo Bertolucci (Besieged). His other recent books are Bluestone: New and Selected Poems and The Fall Guy, a novel. With Jonathan Nossiter he co-wrote the films Sunday, which won Best Feature and Best Screenplay awards at Sundance, and Signs and Wonders, starring Charlotte Rampling and Stellan Skarsgaard. With Michael Hofmann he edited the anthology After Ovid: New Metamorphoses. With his wife Pia Davis he has written two guide books, Walking and Eating in Tuscany and Umbria, and Walking and Eating in Provence. His work has been widely translated and won numerous awards. More about his latest novel, Afternoon of a Faun, follows the interview.
Cagibi: Hilaire Belloc, the early twentieth century Anglo-French writer and historian, wrote, “We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
James Lasdun: Interesting distinction—I think what I like is a form of locomotion that combines both. I wrote a couple of guide books with my wife featuring walks that offered the combined pleasures of unspoiled landscape and good eating. It was hard to find what we were looking for, and each book involved months of wandering around, usually to no avail. For the second one (in Provence) we had our children with us. I’d say it was about the happiest four months of my adult life—total distraction; total fulfillment.
Cagibi: Name some of your favorite distractions when you travel somewhere.
Lasdun: As a kid traveling with my very cultured and well-meaning parents, I was exposed too early and too often to the great cultural attractions of the places we visited. For years, as an adult, I reacted by avoiding museums, churches, et cetera, like the plague, whenever I traveled. I’m over that now, but still what I like to do best is get out into the countryside and hike or just wander aimlessly. Unfamiliar landscapes have a very potent effect on me.
Cagibi: A cagibi, loosely interpreted, is a space such as a cubbyhole, or a space where you store things. Or the workspace in which authors write. For ourselves we’ve translated it as “any shelter, no matter how tiny, that allows for big imaginings to take shape.” Pick what kind of cagibi would be best suited for your creative process: a) a super organized cubbyhole b) a super messy tool shed c) any restricted space d) a space as vast as the universe. Please explain your choice—we are dying to understand your creative process.
Lasdun: For the last twenty years I’ve mostly been working in a section of an old barn with a view onto woods and mountains. Wild turkeys, deer, bears, skunks, regularly pass right by the window. It’s a very rough-hewn little space, with a big desk, bookshelves and a ratty sofa. It’s usually fairly messy, and never quite warm enough in winter, and occasionally mice or squirrels get in, but I love it.
Cagibi: This is Cagibi Express and we are here to deliver news to your readers—what can your readers expect next from you? What are you working on now?
Lasdun: I’m just beginning to work on a new novel.
Cagibi: How does traveling to a new place influence your writing? In what ways do you incorporate travel experiences into your writing?
Lasdun: Moving from the UK to the US when I was 27 was a decisive journey for me, completely changing the kinds of things I wrote about about and the way I wrote about them. I’ve traveled for various reasons since, but nothing has had a comparable impact (and I’m not sure I would have survived it if it had—there’s only so much change you can really absorb!).
Cagibi: Do you use your work as an excuse to travel? Do you use travel as an excuse to not work?
Lasdun: Probably both in the past. I’m too conscious of the limited amount of time at my disposal these days, to leave my desk without great reluctance.
Cagibi: Tell us about a book you read that made you want to go and visit a place you’ve never been to.
Lasdun: Lawrence Osborne’s evocation of Cambodia in Hunters in the Dark is wonderfully vivid. It didn’t exactly make me want to go there so much as make me wish I’d already been there, at a time when I found travel less of an ordeal (and when it genuinely was less of an ordeal—i.e. before the nightmare of the post-9/11 airport experience).
Cagibi: Did you ever have to hide in an uncomfortable space in order to write? Where, and how long did you stay in there?
Lasdun: No, but I had a friend who was writing a book about a prison in the UK. He was offered a cell to work in and became so attached to it he could hardly bear to leave when he was finished. I can relate to that!
More About James Lasdun’s Afternoon of a Faun
James Lasdun’s latest novel, Afternoon of a Faun, is published by W.W. Norton in April, 2019. From the publisher:
Taut, stylish, and psychologically acute, Afternoon of a Faun dramatizes the search for truth as an accusation of sexual assault plunges a journalist into a series of deepening crises.
“The truth might be hard to bring to light, but that didn’t mean it didn’t exist, because it did exist: fixed in its moment, unalterable, and certainly not a matter of ‘belief.’”
When an old flame accuses him of sexual assault in her memoir, expat English journalist Marco Rosedale is brought rapidly and inexorably to the brink of ruin. His reputation and livelihood at stake, Marco confides in a close friend, who finds himself caught between the obligations of friendship and an increasingly urgent desire to uncover the truth. This unnamed friend is drawn, magnetized, into the orbit of the woman at the center of the accusation—and finds his position as the safely detached narrator turning into something more dangerous. Soon, the question of his own complicity becomes impossible to avoid.
Set during the months leading up to Donald Trump’s election, with detours into the 1970s, this propulsive novel investigates the very meaning of truth at a time when it feels increasingly malleable. An atmospheric and unsettling drama from a novelist acclaimed as “the literary descendent of Dostoevsky and Patricia Highsmith” (Boston Globe), Afternoon of a Faun combines a sharply observed study of our shifting social mores with a meditation on what makes us believe, or disbelieve, the stories people tell about themselves.
Cagibi Issue 6