You could call this book a collection of essays, or a memoir, or a work of art history. To narrow it down to one of those would be to miss the point, or at least lose some of what makes it so special. Reeling from the end of a relationship, Laing explores the work and lives of four New York City artists (Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and Henry Darger) and the myriad ways loneliness and the city define and inform their work. It's an engaging work of criticism and a powerful personal meditation all at once, and it's the best book of nonfiction you're likely to read this year. Recommended By Tim B., Powells.com
Using the lives of four artists — Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz — in addition to aspects of her own life as a jumping off point, Olivia Laing has written a moving and empathetic study of (and meditation on) urban loneliness. The Lonely City is observant, wise, insightful, and beautifully written. Recommended By Sandy M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A dazzling work of memoir, biography and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of six iconic artists, by the acclaimed author of The Trip to Echo Spring.
What does it mean to be lonely? How do we live, if we're not intimately engaged with another human being? How do we connect with other people? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens?
When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works and lives – from Edward Hopper's Nighthawks to Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, from Henry Darger's hoarding to David Wojnarowicz's AIDS activism – Laing conducts an electric, dazzling investigation into what it means to be alone.
Humane, provocative and deeply moving, The Lonely City is about the spaces between people and the things that draw them together, about sexuality, mortality and the magical possibilities of art. It's a celebration of a strange and lovely state, adrift from the larger continent of human experience, but intrinsic to the very act of being alive.
"…A lovely thing. Exceptionally skillful at changing gears, Ms. Laing moves fluently between memoir, biography (not just of her principal cast but of a large supporting one), art criticism and the fruits of her immersion in ‘loneliness studies'...She writes about Darger and the rest with insight and empathy and about herself with a refreshing lack of exhibitionism.…Every page of The Lonely City exudes a disarming, deep-down fondness for humanity." The Wall Street Journal
"It's not easy to pull off switching between criticism and confession—and like Echo Spring, The Lonely City is an impressive and beguiling combination of autobiography and biography, a balancing act that Laing effortlessly performs. Her gift as a critic is her ability to imaginatively sympathize with her subject in a way that allows the art and life of the artist to go on radiating meaning after the book is closed." Elle
"An uncommonly observant hybrid of memoir, history and cultural criticism... a book of extraordinary compassion and insight." San Francisco Chronicle
"One of the finest writers of the new non-fiction...compelling and original." Harper's Bazaar
"Olivia Laing, in her new book, The Lonely City, picks up the topic of painful urban isolation and sets it down in many smart and oddly consoling places. She makes the topic her own.... Perhaps the best praise I can give this book is to concur with Ms. Laing’s dedication: 'If you’re lonely, this one’s for you.'" Dwight Garner, The New York Times
About the Author
Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, To the River, was published by Canongate in the U.K. to wide acclaim and shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year. She has been the deputy books editor of the Observer, and writes for the Guardian, New Statesman, and Granta, among other publications. She is a MacDowell and Yaddo Fellow, and the 2014 Writer in Residence at the British Library. Her critically acclaimed book, The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, is published by Picador.