The Lonely City by Olivia  Laing
(Canongate (UK), Picador (US), 2016)

The Lonely City

by Olivia Laing

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, illuminating not only the causes of loneliness but also how it might be resisted and redeemed.

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.

Chosen as Book of the Year 2016 by:
Observer
Telegraph
Irish Times
New Statesman
Times Literary Supplement
Herald

Awards

  • Shortlisted for the 2016 Gordon Burn Prize

Reviews

A remarkable combination of personal mediation and psychological and artistic inquiry, The Lonely City is always superbly written, fascinating and often sharply moving. Ultimately the book has a paradoxical effect: at the same time as it makes one aware of one's own inescapable solitude, it leaves one feeling less alone”
- Adam Foulds, author of The Quickening Maze
Luminously wise and deeply compassionate, The Lonely City is a fierce and essential work. Laing is a masterful biographer, memoirist and critic. Fearlessly tracing the roots of loneliness, its forbidding consequences, and its complicated and beautiful relationship with art, it is powerful, poignant and magical. Reading it made my heart ache yet filled me with hope for the world”
- Helen MacDonald, author of H is for Hawk
The Lonely City is a stunning homage to how extreme loneliness can make us more hospitable to the strangeness of others - to the risks and innovations of art and artists. Laing has written a classic that will be cherished for years to come”
- Deborah Levy, author of Swimming Home
Laing cuts close to the bone of a universal yet often unrelatable state, to home in on sensations that, she suggests, we are predisposed to forget; and to find solace in artists who, were it not for their work, would have been forgotten. These are the strokes of Laing's portraits: glowing souls in the middle of a long night”
- Financial Times
Considered, authoritative, evocative, empathetic, and full of insight . . . To join Laing in that atmosphere is to enter a world that is at once dark and lambent, and in which loneliness features not just as an eternal fall, but as one of the treasures of what it is to be fully, briefly, human”
- Matthew Adams, The National
Remarkable . . . a memoir, an essay and a group biography all in one, which takes a difficult, almost taboo subject and deftly turns it over anew”
- Evening Standard
A gifted critic and biographer . . . a fascinating, eerie piece of writing”
- Sunday Times
Smart and oddly consoling . . . Laing makes the topic her own”
- New York Times
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' . . . Every page of The Lonely City exudes a disarming, deep-down fondness for humanity”
- Wall Street Journal
Part memoir, part treatise on art and geography, Olivia Laing's book looks at loneliness and how public spaces and especially art can cure or calm this very modern condition”
- Red Magazine