Being alone, however, isn’t the same as being lonely. What exactly, then, is loneliness?
That’s what Olivia Laing asks throughout The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, a half-biography, half-treatise that explores the concept of loneliness, with a particular eye toward whether it’s a symptom of our modern way of living.
Laing was jolted into exploring the subject by an extended period of social isolation that engulfed her after she moved to New York for a relationship that quickly dissolved. Without a significant other, an established friend group or (apparently) the kind of consistent adult interaction one gets from 9-to-5 employment, her personality, day-to-day-life, thoughts, and feelings changed.
(Happily, things seem to have gotten better for Laing. She’s an accomplished critic and writer.)
Prompted by her own experience, Laing moved into exploring how artists and intellects experienced and expressed loneliness.
As a writer, Laing is thoughtful, articulate and certainly cultured and educated – almost to a fault, because her references come so thick and fast it can be hard to keep up. She makes the portions of The Lonely City that are about her interesting by being open, vulnerable and deeply circumspect. The strongest testament to her command of writing is how she can spend an entire book on the same subject, and never have it comes off like she’s going over covered ground.