Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How We Keep Ourselves Going When Solitaire's the Only Game in Town

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

How We Keep Ourselves Going When Solitaire's the Only Game in Town

Article excerpt

Byline: jerome boyd maunsell

THE LONELY CITY: ADVENTURES IN THE ART OF BEING ALONE by Olivia Laing (Canongate, PS16.99) "IT IS possible easy, even to feel desolate and unfrequented in oneself while living cheek by jowl with others," writes Olivia Laing early on in this acute, nervy and personal investigation into urban solitude by way of art. Alone in New York, far from her English roots after a sudden break-up; without ties of family or work, subletting apartments found via Facebook, Laing in her midthirties was "inhabiting loneliness on a daily basis". Yet she stayed in the city, and in this book comes face to face with her malaise and, one feels, overcomes it.

Hanging precariously from its loose thread of autobiography, and an even slighter thread of travel writing, The Lonely City weaves together accounts of several 20th-century American artists whose life and work sheds light on urban loneliness so different, and so differently seen in our culture, from rural solitude.

Laing looks at four artists in particular: Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. Offering her own literary portraits of each of them, drawing from biographies and her responses to their work, Laing makes these four figures advance her argument in unusual ways. Other people also press in at the margins, alongside brief discussions of social scientists and their take on loneliness.

Of her central quartet, Laing struggles most with Hopper and his melancholy, voyeuristic scenes of urban interiors, which show "not just what loneliness looks like but also how it feels", reflecting the city as an uncomfortable zone of prying gazes, of eavesdropped or stolen intimacy.

With Warhol superficially an artist who seemed anything but lonely Laing gets further, delicately exposing his vulnerability and how his obsession with fame and technology prefigures "our own age of automation" and our reliance on electronic devices to "fill up empty emotional space". …

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