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The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  12,787 ratings  ·  1,581 reviews
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? Does technology draw us closer together or trap us behind screens?

When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Increasingly fascinated by this most shameful
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 1st 2016 by Picador
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7jane Depends on if you're talking about the author's time, or the time period in which the artists she talks about were in. Author-wise, I'd guess from her…moreDepends on if you're talking about the author's time, or the time period in which the artists she talks about were in. Author-wise, I'd guess from her point late in the book when she gets comfort to her loneliness online, the time is circa 2000s. Artist-wise: from Edward Hopper (1920s on) to Josh Harris (ending c.2000).(less)

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Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It took me some time to read this simply because I found it riveting, beautifully written, and I wanted to savour it. Olivia Laing is a British writer and critic who moved to New York to be with her American partner only to find the relationship disintegrating. She falls prey to a crippling loneliness which gives rise to this hybrid memoir and art history on the theme of loneliness; and how she finds an alleviation of her loneliness through the visual arts. Given her family history, she focuses ...more
Peter Boyle
What does it feel like to be lonely? It feels like being hungry: like being hungry when everyone around you is readying for a feast.


As a person who spends a fair amount of time by himself, I was drawn to the subject matter of this book. I would say that I'm very comfortable in my own company but there are periods of isolation that I don't always enjoy. God I'm making myself sound like a total recluse here! To be clear I am blessed with lots of terrific friends but as an introvert I always need
Apr 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
My full review, as well as my other thoughts on reading, can be found on my blog.

Incisive but uneven, The Lonely City thoughtfully examines loneliness as it appears in the works of Hopper, Warhol, Wojnarowicz, and Darger. Laing mixes together biography, psychology, criticism, and cultural history, to consider how these mens abusive upbringings and marginalized milieus informed their works complex representations of loneliness, connection, desire, and violence. Reminiscent of Rebecca Solnits
Whereas alcoholic writers were the points of reference for her previous book, the superb The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), here outsider artists take center stage: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger, and the many lost to AIDS in the 1980s to 1990s. Its a testament to Laings skill at interweaving biography, art criticism and memoir when I say that I knew next to nothing about any of these artists to start with and have little fondness for modern art but still found her book ...more
Not a bad book, but not what I was looking for. I didn't realize to what extent the book would focus upon sexuality, AIDS and abused individuals. Even ordinary people, people with less serious problems than those studied in this book, are troubled by loneliness, lack of communication and meaningful contact with others.

The author wanted to get a handle on the loneliness she felt when her partner left her. She was in her mid-thirties and she felt utterly alone, alone in NYC. We are told that she
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Trish by: ali smith
Ali Smith pointed me to Olivia LaingI think she was planning to introduce her at a conference in Edinburgh. I knew nothing about Laing when I opened this book to the essay about Henry Darger, the Chicago janitor who posthumously achieved fame as one of the worlds most celebrated outsider artists, a term coined to describe people on the margins of society, who make work without the benefit of an education in art or art history.

It is very creepy and disturbing, the whole story of the three
Mar 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lonely people
I will always be lonely.

And this book just validated that feeling some us have had and still having and will continue to have, for the rest of our lives.

While some may think that it is a weakness, artists mentioned in this book (which I never knew existed, thanks Olivia) used loneliness as their means of doing their artworks to its best. At the time that technology hasn't reached its peak yet, these people turned their pain into something beautifulart. Instead of looking for a way to dismiss
Jan 27, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

I would give the last three pages of this book 20 stars if I could, for exploring the under-discussed topic of loneliness with such wisdom and compassion. In The Lonely City, Olivia Laing writes about her experience with loneliness after moving to New York City. She blends her time in New York with analyses and biographies of various artists, including Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, David Wojnarowicz, and more. I loved portions of this book because Laing opens herself up to such a probing,
Helene Jeppesen
Oct 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first non-fiction book for a long time, and I was very curious both about the subject of loneliness, but also to see what was hidden behind the beautiful cover.
Basically, Olivia Laing explores how it is to be lonely in a city surrounded by people. She has lived in New York City for a certain period of time herself, and during that time she felt extremely lonely.
This non-fiction book isn't just about her personal experiences, though, because it also dives into other artists'
May 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to 7jane by: ONTD
Music: House Of Love - "Loneliness Is A Gun"

At first, you might think this is just the author talking about her loneliness when she spent some time in New York City somewhere around 2000s. Then you realise that it's not only about that, but how artists dealt with their loneliness through art and different gadgets, from Edward Hopper to Josh Harris. It's true that Laing chooses mostly white, mostly male, examples of them, but I somehow feel it doesn't matter too much, since the books variety of
In her mid-30s, Olivia Laing moved from England to New York to live with a new boyfriend. The relationship didn't work out, and she found herself stranded on her own in an unfamiliar city, dealing with an almost crippling lack of daily human interaction.

Having spent sizeable chunks of my own life being lonely in unfamiliar cities, I immediately liked the idea as well as the melancholy tone of this book. Laing has all kinds of interesting insights to offer on how loneliness manifests itself but
The subtitle of The Lonely City, 'Adventures in the Art of Being Alone', has a double meaning: as well as being a book about the experience of loneliness itself, this is a book about the role of loneliness in art. The starting point is Olivia Laing's own period of intense loneliness, living in New York after the end of a relationship, bringing to life the so-often-true cliche of being alone in a crowd, isolated and displaced in the centre of one of the world's most populous cities. She makes a ...more
Laura Ilkiw
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
While Liang's writing and research are impressive, this didn't come across as a cohesive work for me. The loneliness theme felt forced, and every time it was introduced I often felt that the artists discussed weren't in fact lonely but simply dedicated to their craft. In addition, I was put off by the amount of content that seemed to be directly pulled from Wojnarowicz's " Close to the Knives". I'd like to read this book in the future, and Liang seems to have simply summarized the plot points ...more
Laura Leaney
Aug 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I live alone, and by alone I discount two barnacle-like cats who obviously think I'm the tops. So I was attracted by Olivia Laing's title, especially the subtitle "Adventures in the Art of Being Alone." I thought, hmm, is there an art to it? Am I missing something that might make me feel less isolated from the teeming world? And at first I believed the book might be headed in the direction I assumed, towards artful solitary living.

Despite the great writing, I was left slightly disappointed. The
Scott Burrus
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Powerful, relevant, timely and resonates with where our society finds itself, especially in urban communities. Great quote, "learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many things that seem to affect us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted. Loneliness is personal, and it is political. Loneliness is collective, it is a city." Another great aspect of this book was how the author not only weaved in contemporary ...more
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A pretty rare 5 star rating for me but this was a terrific book, very poignant and moving but at the same time it was educational and informative - and beautifully written.
After a love affair goes suddenly and badly wrong, Laing finds herself living in a small sublet apartment in New York. Nothing new about a writer describing the feeling of being alone in the midst of a bustling city. And yet Laing's meditations are wonderful and lead in so many directions - for example the use of a mask to
Mar 19, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016
This had an interesting premise and started out promising, with the author reflecting on her own experience lonely in NYC after moving there from overseas. In the first couple chapters, it was somewhat interesting, albeit depressing, to learn more about some well-known artists and how loneliness shaped them and their work.

By the third chapter, however, I gave up. When another artist's biography quickly devolved into a list of the many specific horrible ways he was abused by his parents, I had
Jim Coughenour
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Olivia Laing launches her book with the idea that loneliness might be taking you towards an otherwise unreachable experience of reality, which may be true and worth avoiding whenever possible. A longtime bachelor myself, I tend to distinguish between loneliness and solitude. (For me the difference depends on having a cat.) But Im happy to be convinced, à la Laing, that the saving grace is art.

The Lonely City begins as an earnest exercise in ekphrasis. In the wake of endless monographs on Edward
Satkar Ulama
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book had me at its title. And lost me at chapter three. While the readers' reviews and introduction chapter promise me a fun discussion about loneliness from the perspective of psychology and philosophy, this book is more about artists' lives than the concepts of loneliness itself. Laing tries to interpret loneliness by analyzing, say, Andy Warhol's paintings and his appearance on TV and so on. I expected empirical research findings of loneliness instead of short memoirs, though. This is a ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it
For me, if I am in the right city, even if I am utterly alone there, I can be blissfully happy. Because the city feeds me, the city becomes my friend, and I feel too full of myself and life to even want anything else.

Montreal, for me, is the greatest friend Ill ever have. Shes still home, and I miss her so very much. Glasgow. Glasgow is another city that, for me, makes it impossible to even remember what it feels like to be lonely. Berlin, too. And, to a lesser extent, London.

Then there are
Sometimes a book will serendipitously meander into your life at the exact moment you need it, and that's exactly what happened with this one. Threading together art history, cultural analysis, and autobiography, Laing's book is a unique hybrid that documents artists and artwork that address loneliness and isolation through a prism of personal loneliness and isolation that she herself experienced while briefly living in New York City. The book became my companion during a period of personal ...more
Dan (aka Utterbiblio)
A beautifully written thought piece on loneliness that is a must read for anyone who identifies with the concept of being lonely. As a mental health sufferer (depression, anxiety, OCD) I have to face feeling lonely every day. What Olivia Laing does here, is look at the factors of life that can cause us to feel this way - whether it's from our childhood situations lingering with us or whether it's our modern addiction to the connectivity of electronic devices.

Throughout the book Laing looks at
Jake Goretzki
May 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
So there I was, all braced for this to be a slightly tiresome, stream of conscious outpouring on Sontag/Derrida/de Frou Frou/Kugelschreiber and the heuristics of contemporary post-feminist discourse, in Brooklyn and some fantastic coffee shops - or summat. What a pleasant surprise to find instead a readable, thoughtful journey through the worlds of a range of canonical artists - the focus very much on the material and the artist. And that this is art - Edward Hopper, Warhol, Klaus Nomi, Basquiat ...more
Book Riot Community
Laing, the author of the wonderful The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking, is back with a part cultural criticism, part memoir on the subject of loneliness. What is loneliness? What constitutes being alone? Laing takes a look at lives in the era of electronic connections, and shares her personal experiences of being lonely in NYC, the city that never sleeps, and how she used art to explore the concept of loneliness, and learn what things bring people together. Fascinating and poignant. ...more
Clemlucian (🏳️‍🌈the villain's quest)
"Loneliness is by no means a wholly worthless experience, but rather one that cuts right to the heart of what we value and what we need. Many marvellous things have emerged from the lonely city: things forged in loneliness, but also things that function to redeem it."

Rating: 5/5 stars.

I had an intense inner debate about which quote should open this review because god damn it, there were so many possibilities and at the same time, none truly showed how wonderful this book was.

I'm in awe with
Eric Anderson
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Its difficult to write about books that affect me the most. Of course I was drawn to this non-fiction book because the title is so in line with my blogs title. As well as being a platform for me to ponder what Im reading, I like to think of my blog as an ongoing exploration on the conflicted relationship I have to literature how it can make me feel so connected to our larger shared humanity. At the same time, it makes me physically alone and reading itself can serve as a self-imposed barrier to ...more
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: netgalley

'The Lonely City' by Olivia Laing

2.5 stars/ 5 out of 10

My favourite section was that relating to Edward Hopper, which I found interesting and informative. The section concerning 'Nighthawks' taught me a lot that I didn't know about the painting. Other sections that were of interest included those about Greta Garbo, and some of the descriptions of New York itself.

I didn't find the chapter concerning Andy Warhol and Valerie Solanas as interesting, probably because I knew much more about them in
Jess Kibler
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
It took me AGES to finish this book, not because I didn't like it but because I did so, so much. While reading it, I'd stop periodically to marvel at the density of research--so clearly presented--packed into each gorgeous sentence. I'd reread entire pages so I could feel the rhythm of them again. On the bus, I'd stop reading to stare out the window a bit, watch my own city go by, and then suddenly I'd be at my destination, the time passed thinking about the ideas on loneliness and art and ...more
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
A solid meditation on the meaning of loneliness or solitude, and what those ideas mean in the work of several 20th century artists. I learned a lot about the work of Edward Hopper, David Wojnarowicz, Henry Darger and Andy Warhol -- a worthwhile read for those portions of the book on them alone. Laing also talks about the modern world and how technology, specifically the internet and social media -- have simultaneously created connections and distance between and among people -- great food for ...more
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
Do you ever read the title of a book and assume that it will be about one thing, and the actual book is vastly different from your expectations? I had assumed that this book would be meditative essays/memoirs on the distinct feeling of being alone in a crowd, the distance and intimacy between people, the like. Really though, this work is mainly art biography, with some art criticism tying the artist and their body of work to a theme of loneliness. The author claims that this is a generalized ...more
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Olivia Laing is a writer and critic. Her first book, To the River (2011) is the story of a midsummer journey down the river Virginia Woolf drowned in. It was a book of the year in the Evening Standard, Independent and Financial Times and was shortlisted for the 2012 Ondaatje Prize and the Dolman Travel Book of the Year.

Her second, The Trip to Echo Spring (2013), explores the liquid links between

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29 likes · 20 comments
“I don't believe the cure for loneliness is meeting someone, not necessarily. I think it's about two things: learning how to befriend yourself and understanding that many of the things that seem to afflict us as individuals are in fact a result of larger forces of stigma and exclusion, which can and should be resisted.” 92 likes
“There is a gentrification that is happening to cities, and there is a gentrification that is happening to the emotions too, with a similarly homogenising, whitening, deadening effect. Amidst the glossiness, of late capitalism, we are fed the notion that all difficult feeling - depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage - are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to structural injustice or, on the other hand, to the native texture of embodiment, of doing time, as David Wojnarowicz memorably put it, in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails.” 83 likes
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