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The Lonely City

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  8,779 ratings  ·  1,186 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? When Olivia Laing moved to New York City in her mid-thirties, she found herself inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis. Fascinated by the experience, she began to explore the lonely city by way of art. Moving fluidly between works a ...more
Hardcover, 315 pages
Published March 3rd 2016 by Canongate Books (first published March 1st 2016)
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3.92  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,779 ratings  ·  1,186 reviews

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Feb 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Odai Al-Saeed
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
إنه حديث العزلة حيث الأماكن غير المأهولة في روح الإنسان في سجنها الإنفرادي برغم حوم الجموع وإكتظاظ المدن.كتاب لا يمكنك أن لا تكمله إذا بدآت فيه ففي الأماكن المقفرة الخاوية أحياناً تصنع النفس معجزاتها وآمالها بعيداً عن الصخب واللجة
ما كتبته " أوليفيا لاينغ وترجمه محمد الضبع ونشرته دار كلمات يستحق الإهتمام ،فيه تتعرف عن هؤلاء المبدعين الذين عزلتهم الحياة فصنعت مجداً غير مبسوق لهم ،عرفتني أوليفيا عن أهم الرسامين في أمريكا وروت لي كيف كانت نمط حيواتهم المبهرة في صورتها المغلفة المقطوعة عن خيوط الوصال
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. It’s a testament to Laing’s 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 bo ...more
Nov 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Lonely City by Olivia Laing is an investigation of loneliness in a city of eight and a half million people. Laing is a columnist for frieze and write for the Guardian, New Statesman, Observer, and New York Times. Her previous books are To the River and The Trip to Echo Spring

The Lonely City opens with a discussion of loneliness and the idea that you can be lonely anywhere but there is a special sense of loneliness when one is surrounded by millions of people in an urban environment. Laing t
Ilenia Zodiaco
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"La solitudine è collettiva; è una città. E non ci sono regole su come abitarci, e non bisogna provare vergogna, basta ricordarsi che la ricerca della felicità individuale non travalica e non ci esime dai nostri obblighi reciproci. Siamo tutti sulla stessa barca, e accumuliamo cicatrici in questo mondo di oggetti, questo paradiso materiale e temporaneo che troppo spesso assume il volto dell’inferno".
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 w
Nada EL Shabrawi
لا أعلم لماذا يعتقد الناس ان الجحيم هو مكان حار يحترق فيه كل شئ. هذا ليس جحيما. الجحيم هو أن تكون محاصرًا في عزلتك في كتلة من التلج. هذا ما مررت به.
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 beautiful—art. Instead of looking for a way to dismiss t
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trish by: ali smith
Ali Smith pointed me to Olivia Laing—I 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 world’s 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 hu
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
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' experie
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 s ...more
Laura Ilkiw
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 an ...more
Laura Leaney
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
Feb 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 hid
Scott Burrus
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 19, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 e
Mar 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
En un principio pretendí escribir una descripción del libro, como de costumbre. «Reflexiones sobre la soledad...» «La prosa es de una belleza excepcional...» He tenido que asumir que no puedo hacerlo, simplemente porque este caso no funciona así.

Leer The Lonely City es una labor exigente para la que no hay anticipación posible. Requiere trabajo de introspección, de pensamiento; te fuerza más allá de las fronteras de tu limitada experiencia. A mí me ha hecho sufrir. Me ha hecho sufrir porque siem
Marcello S
(1) Premessa: la solitudine è un concetto/stato che mi interessa molto. C’è chi la cerca, chi non ne vuol sapere. Dire di sentirsi soli sembra un fallimento, tanto più oggi, dove sembra che tutti abbiano vite più fighe della tua. È per forza qualcosa che ci/mi riguarda.

(2) Di cosa si parla? Più o meno di arte, società, relazioni, omosessualità, sesso, aids, New York, internet, isolamento urbano. Solitudine.

(3) È interessante? Sì, lo è, anche se a tratti. Potenzialmente è un saggio valido, ben
Satkar Ulama
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
La semana pasada terminé esta lectura y aunque en un principio dije que haría reseña en el blog, sigo sin saber muy bien qué contar de La ciudad solitaria. Le he dado cinco estrellas, me ha maravillado y entristecido a partes iguales, pero no quiero quedarme solo con eso, por eso, hasta que encuentre las palabras adecuadas para hacer una entrada como merece, os dejo aquí una mini reseña que, espero, os haga añadirlo a vuestra lista de pendientes.

¿Cómo nace La ciudad solitaria? Pues, diría que n
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
منذ فترة لم أقرأ كتاباً لا يخيب ظنّي. وأجمل ما في قرائته هو الشعور بالتورط الممتع عند البحث عن كل إسم، كتاب، لوحة أو فيلم ورد فيه.
تقريباً لا تمر أكثر من صفحتان دون التخطيط عليها. الخلاصة التي انتهت إليها -وان بدت بديهية- إلا أنها في السياق الأخير للكتاب كانت جميلة جداً:
"ما يهم فعلاً هو اللطف، ما يهم فعلاً هو التضامن. ما يهم فعلاً هو البقاء متيقظين، منفتحين، لأننا إن تعلمنا أي درس ممن جاؤوا قبلنا، فإنه بالتأكيد يتمثل في هذه الجملة: وقت المشاعر والعواطف لا يدوم للأبد"
Jim Coughenour
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 I’m 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 Edwa
Mar 19, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 I’ll ever have. She’s 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
Tiffany Reisz
Feb 08, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely. Lonely. Fascinating. Beautifully written.
Mar 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 t
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
Eric Anderson
Feb 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It’s 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 blog’s title. As well as being a platform for me to ponder what I’m 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 barrie ...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 w
“So much of the pain of loneliness is to do with concealment, with feeling compelled to hide vulnerability, to tuck ugliness away, to cover up scars as if they are literally repulsive. But why hide? What's so shameful about wanting, about desire, about having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness? Why this need to constantly inhabit peak states, or to be comfortably sealed inside a unit of two, turned inward from the world at large?” 68 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.” 68 likes
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