The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

The Lonely City revolves around the study and exploration of loneliness and what it means to feel, or be, lonely. Laing herself experienced the feeling after plans to move into an apartment with her partner fell through following their separation, which resulted in Laing finding herself alone and isolated in a place that would, should, have been shared with another. She had moved from England to New York, a drastic change which she struggled to adjust to. During her time in New York, she took notice of the art that was scattered around and found herself entranced by one piece in particular by Edward Hopper, known as Nighthawks.

From here, Laing investigates the lives of an eclectic mix of artists, ranging from Edward Hopper to Andy Warhol to Henry Darger; all lived troubled lives plagued by isolation and despair, exacerbated by the loneliness which was pervasive throughout their lives right up until the very end. Laing also mentions Peter Hujar, who, like his contemporary David Wojnarowicz, battled AIDs in the 1980s; a time when society had just become aware of AIDs, was unaware of how it was contracted, yet saw the devastation it caused to those who had to bear it, which only served to evoke even more hatred towards the gay community, where the disease was rife. Due to the fact there was no cure, AIDs was massively stigmatised and the sufferers were consequently secluded and ostracised because of the fears that encapsulated it, particularly the worry of how it was able to spread. These situations provide the reader with an insight into the most crushing examples of loneliness and just how varied the emotion can be.

Altogether, I found this book to be beautifully written and Laing herself to be articulate, intelligent and creative in her ability to convey a plethora of ideas about loneliness. Essentially, a thought-provoking study of an emotion all of us will face at one time or another.

You can find the book here on Amazon: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone.

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