The Lonely City

I don’t know what I expected of this book but it exceeded all expectations. I fell in love with it from the first page because the writing is warm, creative, original, and elevates the subject it confronts.

Laing conveys the great depth and evocative truth of her experiences as she describes a broken relationship, moving to New York City in her mid-thirties and her loneliness, exacerbated by feeling out of place.

Through the works of the city’s artists like Edward Hopper, David Wojnarowicz, Andy Warhol and Valerie Solanas, Laing explores what loneliness is, how averse we are to this emotion and how much shame surrounds it. “Sometimes what causes the most pain is actually the attempt to resist feeling, or the shame that grows up like thorns around it.” She analyses the theme of loneliness in these artists’ work by digging into how their roots and relationships shaped them. Warhol is not just the popular genius in adulthood, but also the sickly, self-conscious, immigrant boy with a strong accent and a fascination for gifted speakers who grew up to record days of conversations as art. 

Her exploration stretches from the personal to the political as she writes of the AIDS crisis that resulted in individuals and whole communities being shunned by their family, friends and lovers – a “consequence of stigmatisation” and the resulting severe loneliness. In another section, she contemplates our need to become celebrities – if we become well-known, we won’t be alone, we “will always feel loved,” and it is a “love without risk.”

Art can’t “cure AIDS, or halt the pace of climate change” but it can create intimacy between people who have never met; it has the power to reflect one’s own experiences in another and to heal but also make “it apparent that not all wounds need healing and not all scars are ugly.”

Her economy with words combined with an abundance of incisive honesty made me wish the book didn’t end. I’ve already got another title by her which I cannot wait to read. 

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