It was a packed
house at the Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall in London on Jan. 16. Ten
poets were reading from their works, all nominated for the most prestigious
award in British poetry – the T.S Eliot Foundation’s T.S. Eliot Prize. The
prize is also a financial one – 20,000 pounds (about $26,000 at current
exchange rates). Each of the 10 shortlisted
nominees received 1,500 pounds (about $1,900).
is a professor of German history at New York University. He’s recently returned
to the United States after 10 years teaching at Oxford; he wants to be closer
to his grown daughter and his mother. And he’s also dealing with cultural
dislocations. To his American friends and colleagues, he sounds British, just
as to his British friends and colleagues he always sounded like an American. He’s
both, and neither.
He has an
appointment with one of his graduate students to discuss her paper; he arrives
on time at a local coffee shop, but the student is a no-show. A young man
sitting nearby observes that it appears his date didn’t show up. Later, when he
checks his email, he discovers an email from himself telling the student to
reschedule, and a response from the student. He has no memory of either email.
Then the young
man from the coffee shop shows up at a party given by Jeremy’s daughter and her
husband. That’s followed by the arrival of the first of several boxes of
printed lists of O’Keefe’s emails and online activity. He thinks he’s either
losing his mind or someone is doing more than simply watching what he’s up to.
His academic specialization in German history is the work of the Stasi, the
East German secret police that flourished in the communist era, and he begins
to wonder if his life is taking on aspects of his academic work.
Am No One is Patrick Flanery’s third novel, and
while it’s tempting to consider it a suspense novel, it actually falls in the
genre of serious fiction. O’Keefe’s dilemma becomes an exploration of memory, privacy,
and identity in the internet age, an age where threats can be vague and hidden,
threatening people can turn out to be something else entirely, and one’s past can
become intimately locked into one’s present.
American writer, is a professor of creative writing at the University of
Reading in the U.K. His first novel, Absolution
(2012), received the Spear / Laurent Perrier Best First Book Award and was
shortlisted for several other awards. His second novel, Fallen
Land, was published in 2013.
I’ve never been
a fan of literary fiction set in academia, but I Am No One is different. Yes, it has an academic background, but
this is a story that transcends it. Most of the story happens in New York City
and upstate New York, away from the university. It is ultimately about a man having
to come to grips with his past, as that past begins to engulf the world he
they listened, a
to the words on
the reading of
They stood as
as they heard
the words read,
written on the scroll
written on the scroll
As they listened
to the words
to hear the
When he finished
written on the scroll.
Photograph: The Great Isaiah Scroll of
the Dead Seas Scrolls, via Live