Short Review #6: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)

Review – 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Author: Olivia Laing
Published: 2016 (Picador, New York)
Pages: 315 (Paperback)
Genres: Non-Fiction, Memoir, Autobiography, Art History, Psychology
Link Here

Looking over a quiet city with my copy of The Lonely City

This week I’m here to talk about The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. Is this the perfect book for quarantining and social distancing you may ask? Honestly, as it was a refreshing take on what it means to be alone, my opinion would be no. I found this off-putting to read while trying to isolate myself. And as much as I enjoyed this book for a few reasons, I recommend this book be read when we are able to be social and regroup at our own pace.

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people” – Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

At first glance, I thought this was going to be a book about being alone. But Laing uses her own experience and research to write about what it means to be alone after moving to New York and experiencing it firsthand. Her book explores different types of loneliness by investigating artists who experienced it or similar feelings in their lives and work in New York. She goes into detail about the lives of Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and more. Laing uses loneliness to connect and validate the experience. I studied art history in college, and from an art historian standpoint, I enjoyed the perspective of Laing’s research tying the theme of loneliness to the artist’s attitudes and work.

There are so many things that art can’t do. It can’t bring the dead back to life, it can’t mend arguments between friends, or cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change. All the same, it does have some extraordinary functions, some odd negotiating ability between people, including people who never meet and yet who infiltrate and enrich each other’s lives. It does have a capacity to create intimacy; it does have a way of healing wounds, and better yet of making it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly– Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

I felt some strange emotions as I read this book. Maybe it was the subject matter, but something about the book struck me during this present time of self isolation. Loneliness means more than being alone, and Laing’s investigation dives into the reasons why. Loneliness stems from not being understood, purposefully isolating, stigma in a community, rejection, experience, etc. Right now, we are all supposed to be socially separating ourselves for health, but the consequences to mental health is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently. This book was appropriate for this crazy time and extremely well-written. But at the same time, it did not assist in alleviating what I’m currently feeling, but if anything, made my loneliness feel more poignant and purposeful.

Overall, I give this book a 3 out of 5!


*Warning: This book contains sensitive subjects such as AIDS, sexuality, trauma and assault*

3 thoughts on “Short Review #6: The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing (2016)

  1. Great review, Elizabeth. This is on my TBR but I also don’t think that I would pick it up right now 😅 I liked how Lang’s exploration of loneliness through artists’ works and attitudes was meaningful to you, with your perspective as an art historian. A very well-balanced review. Hope you’re staying safe at this time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! And I totally agree, right now is probably not the best time to read this book 😅 I had to give it credit outside of the current situation, because I definitely would have liked it otherwise. I hope you’re staying safe as well!

      Liked by 1 person

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