Book Reviews Reviews

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

“Loneliness is difficult to confess; difficult too to categorise. Like depression, a state with which it often intersects, it can run deep in the fabric of a person, as much a part of one’s being as laughing easily or having red hair.”

Picked this beauty, The Lonely City by Olivia Laing, back up again today, and I would love to hear your thoughts if you’ve read it. Or, tell me about a book you have read that explores themes of loneliness.

I started by reading the first two chapters last month—the first is Laing’s introduction, which is both a personal essay, and the critical thesis for her book, which explores loneliness and it’s relationship to creative production and art itself.

The second was the section on Edward Hopper, whose paintings I’ve always been drawn to. I took a particular interest in studying his art after reading The Boss by Victoria Chang a few years back, who does a Hopper series in the book, which I mentioned in a previous post.

hopper 2

I obviously can’t write a review without having finished it, but I can say that I only put it down last month because I knew I wanted to spend time on it, and read it in collaboration with books that work through similar themes, which didn’t fit into my plans at the time. But I cried like three times while reading it and felt a deep connection to the work. So, I think it’s safe to say I love the writing haha.

It has made me think deeply about the kind of reading & writing life I want to inhabit, and informed my reading choices for this month—with a focus on the creative process and emotional exploration—thus far leading me back to Chang, Maggie Nelson’s poetry collection Bluets, to Art as Therapy by Alain de Botton, and to Alexander Chee’s memoir/writing guide, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.

“Loneliness, I began to realise, was a populated place: a city in itself. And when one inhabits a city… one starts by getting lost. Over time, you begin to develop a mental map, a collection of favoured destinations and preferred routes: a labyrinth no other person could ever precisely duplicate or reproduce. What I was building in those years, and what now follows, is a map of loneliness, built out of both need and interest, pieced together from my own experiences and those of others. I wanted to understand what it means to be lonely, and how it has functioned in people’s lives, to attempt to chart the complex relationship between loneliness and art.”


If you’ve made it this far, here are some suggestions for further viewing/reading:

🎥 The super fascinating, and often trippy documentary on the outsider writer/artist Henry Darger called In the Realms of the Unreal.


📖 Sady Doyle’s essay on Valerie Solanis in her book Trainwreck.




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