Review: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone – 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?

Olivia Laing moved to NYC and found loneliness a daily occurrence; accordingly this book allows her to explore that notion through case studies of sorts on many people, like Andy Warhol, to not just pinpoint loneliness but look at what it can lead to. It’s a binding of art and the mind behind it.

While this isn’t, for example, a Reasons to Stay Alive, there’s a similar air to it in that it’s tackling something often hard to articulate and resonating along the way. Loneliness is a horrible thing and, as she’s quick to note, being in a bustling city doesn’t remove that sense of solitude.

It’s researched, it’s referenced, it really tries to paint full pictures of those she’s laying on the page from across the 20th century. It can be bleak and all-too-real, though the way it’s written feels almost poetic. It has its silver linings to cling to – the very art that showcased loneliness can act as a welcome friend that stands for more. It just kind of makes you think, makes you feel like maybe the next time you’re lonely it might not be quite as isolating.

Laing puts herself in there too, and it’s almost as if you’re being given the go ahead to see some of the most personal feelings of someone. It’s quite hard to articulate really – it’s just a very good book on a subject that I’m sure everyone can relate to even in the most fleeting of moments, and explores it in such a momentous way.

One side note, the whole time I was reading I was thinking of Lemmy. I know it’s a difficult leap from this to Motorhead but give me a moment longer of your time… Henry Rollins recently spoke on his tour about getting to know and become friends with Lemmy, and one day he was round at his house and Lemmy was showing him books, trying to keep him around. When Henry had to really, really leave, the reaction from Lemmy hit him a bit like a brick, a: Fuck, Lemmy is lonely.

The people in this book are magnificent people and exploring their stories was a real experience, in terms of reading, but it draws me to the similar story I’ve heard from my own world. That you can be surrounded, you can be acclaimed, you can have everything, but feel like you’re alone in the world, and it’s just quite unsettling to see how many people have that side to them and how that can manifest itself. But while there’s loneliness, there’s also anger, passion, talent, art, determination, love, and so many other things.

I don’t mean to end this on a gloomy note, so I’ll recap: a fascinating, moving, resonating must-read.

3rd March 2016 | Canongate Books

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