Read of the Week

I Am No One

Patrick Flanery

Atlantic Books

Review: Brian Joss

All of us are being watched. All of us are under surveillance and we are all linked in cyberspace whether through Twitter, Facebook or any other social media at the press of a button.

Most of us are innocent of any wrong-doing. We take selfies of ourselves at restaurants or tweet that we’re shopping.

Except for those trolls who spew racist vitriol.

So why it is it that the dull Professor Jeremy O’Keefe is being watched? What has he done that’s so dreadful? O’Keefe’s subject, ironically, is surveillance, specialising in the Stasi, the former East Germany’s secret police.

After a misdemeanour at Columbia University, where he fails to get tenure, and the break-up of his marriage to Susan, he moves to Oxford University, leaving behind his young daughter.

Here he lives for a decade, soaking in English culture, but not being part of it, although he has “become so very British,” remarks his daughter, Meredith, now a successful gallery owner and married to a media titan.

Very much a loner and homesick, he does have the occasional “romantic” interlude and at Oxford he becomes friendly with the shadowy Stephen Jahn. O’Keefe gets involved with Fadia, his doctoral student, an Egyptian woman, round the time of the Arab Spring, and post 9/11.

He returns to America after being offered a lucrative professorship at a New York university. Then boxes, which contain records of his cyberspace activity going back more than a decade, start arriving at his apartment.

But who sent them and why? Perhaps he sent them to himself, he conjectures, after missing an appointment with a student, that he doesn’t recall making. Which makes him think he’s paranoid, and his family, who seem to agree with him, send him to a therapist.

O’Keefe keeps bumping into Michael Ramsey, who is apparently watching him.

Ramsey attends a party given by the professor’s daughter and her husband, he turns up again at O’Keefe’s isolated country home, and he keeps seeing him on the pavement outside his apartment.

That’s the storyline of a compelling but challenging read, which is also part love story.

I didn’t particularly want to review I Am No One but when I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

Flanery will keep you intrigued until the last page when it ends in a surprising twist. The writing is elegant and the theme will give you plenty to think about.