The Lonely City
Adventures in the Art of Being Alone
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism
#1 Book of the Year from Brain Pickings
Named a best book of the year by NPR, Newsweek, Slate, Pop Sugar, Marie Claire, Elle, Publishers Weekly, and Lit Hub
A dazzling work of biography, memoir, and cultural criticism on the subject of loneliness, told through the lives of iconic artists, by the acclaimed author of The Trip to Echo Spring.
When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by the most shameful of experiences, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving 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 moving, The Lonely City is 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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Starting with its evocative opening lines, The Lonely City dishes up a poetic, spellbinding examination of the pain and occasional pleasures of human solitude. Olivia Laing’s 2016 book is part memoir—tracking her unexpectedly isolated stint in New York City—and part anthropological study of a group of famously lonely artists. Laing finds common ground with Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger, and David Wojnarowicz, whose creative responses to loneliness offer her—and us—something of a road map: a path away from unwanted solitude and towards a meaningful and even joyful sense of community and belonging.
The lonely city of the title is teeming with painters, filmmakers, writers, and thinkers. In her new book, Laing (The Trip to Echo Spring) creates a "map of loneliness," tracking its often-paradoxical contours in her own life as a transplant to New York City and traces how loneliness can inspire creativity. The central figures of the book Henry Darger, Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, and David Wojnarowicz were all "hyper-alert to the gulfs between people, to how it can feel to be islanded amid a crowd." By focusing on four artists (others, like Billie Holiday, also make appearances), Laing's writing becomes expansive, exploring their biographies, sharing art analysis, and weaving in observations from periods of desolation that was at times "cold as ice and clear as glass." She invents new ways to consider how isolation plays into art or even the Internet (which turns her into an obsessed teenager, albeit one who calls the screen her "cathected silver lover"). For once, loneliness becomes a place worth lingering.