I Am No One by Patrick Flanery

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Just because Professor Jeremy O’Keefe is paranoid does not mean they aren’t out to get him. I am a sucker for New York-set novels and stories of academics in distress: I Am No One combines both. By the time we meet O’Keefe, he has just returned to his native US after a decade teaching at Oxford University, where one of his social activities may – or may not – have brought him to the authorities’ attention. He is sure that someone is tracking his every move since three boxes of printed pages detailing all his phone calls and online activity have been delivered anonymously to his apartments. But why exactly? And could some of his suspicions exist only in his own head? Even he has doubts about this. Throughout the book, the prose is often ponderous, the sentences sometimes too long, with backtracking clauses and sub-clauses stretching arguments and reminiscences until they squeal for mercy. But Patrick Flanery can get away with this since it is O’Keefe who is ‘writing’ this account. And O’Keefe is a bit of a priggish know-it-all. Except, of course, he knows nothing about his present predicament – or at least, that’s what he, and the reader, first thinks. However, as the onion is peeled, more and more layers come into view: there’s something odd about O’Keefe. He is American but most Americans think he sounds British. That’s not all: he has a professional interest in the Stasi, the former East Germany’s secret police. As Anna Funder’s Stasiland (which is on O’Keefe’s syllabus) tells us, the Stasi had an agent for every 63 people in the population. He is, he rather belatedly realises, ‘one of the world’s leading experts on surveillance’. Who better to be made an example of in this new age of eavesdropping and privacy invasion? After all, in this post-Snowden world, we know what the National Security Agency does and how many security cameras are out there. And O’Keefe has his own shadow, a rather disagreeable young man who he encounters rather too often for it to be coincidence – not least when he turns up, hundreds of miles away at the Professor’s weekend home, asking to borrow a flashlight. It’s good stuff.

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