Olivia Laing is a writer, cultural critic, and journalist known for her insightful and thought-provoking works. Born in 1977 in Chalfont St. Peter, Buckinghamshire, England, Laing has been an active voice in the literary world for over a decade.

While Laing’s debut book, To the River (2011), received critical acclaim, The Trip to Echo Spring (2013) and The Lonely City (2016) brought her to the forefront of cultural criticism.

Laing’s works are marked by their empathy, deep insights, and eloquence. She has a remarkable ability to connect an individual’s personal experiences to broader sociocultural issues, making her works both enthralling and stimulating.

In addition to her writing, Laing has been working as a contributing editor at The White Review and Frieze. She has also penned several pieces for The Guardian, The New Statesman, and The New York Times.

Laing has been the recipient of many a prestigious award, including the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize and Eccles British Library Writers Award.


Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City is a powerful exploration of loneliness, isolation, and human dilemma. Through a series of essays on artists who have experienced loneliness in their lives, Laing delves into the complex interplay between art, psychology, and social issues.

The book is divided into several sections, each of which focuses on a different artist. Their art is used as a lens to portray the loneliness they feel deep within. Laing uses a combination of anecdotes, historical research and art criticism to explore the unique perspectives of each of these artists. She also delves into their contributions to the wider cultural landscape.

In her discussion of Andy Warhol, Laing highlights how his artwork reflects his own experiences isolation in a highly mediated, technological world. His mass-produced images of everyday objects, she argues, reflect the impersonal, disorienting nature of modern life, while his portraits of celebrities are a reflection of his own desire for connection and validation.

Similarly, in her analysis of Edward Hopper’s paintings, Laing examines how his depictions of urban isolation and loneliness capture the essence of modern life, particularly that of the fast-paced nature of modern urban living. His paintings often feature solitary figures in empty urban landscapes, conveying a sense of disconnection and alienation that is all too familiar to many people in modern society.

In the section about David Wojnarowicz, Laing delves into the impact of the AIDS epidemic on the art world and the sense of isolation and abandonment that many gay men experienced during that time. Wojnarowicz’s work often tackled themes of sexuality, power, and violence, and served as a means of political and personal expression. Laing’s analysis of his work sheds light on the complex interplay between the sociopolitical issues of our world.

In her examination of Henry Darger’s life and works, Laing mentions how art can serve as a means of coping with solitude. Darger’s massive, intricate artworks were discovered after his death and suggest that his art allowed him to create his own world where he could find a sense of belonging.

Finally, over the section focusing on Klaus Nomi, Laing studies how it feels to be an outsider and how art can work as a means of embracing one’s own uniqueness while connecting with similar experiences. Nomi’s music and persona allowed him to transcend traditional gender roles and expectations while striking a chord with a wider community of marginalized individuals.

Works of many others artists such as Valerie Solanas, Billie Holliday, Josh Harris, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Zoe Leonard, among others, have also been mentioned throughout the book.


The Lonely City is a compelling book that sheds light on the complex, multifaceted nature of desolation. Laing’s analysis of the artists highlights how art can be an outlet for the expression of personal experiences while also reflecting broader societal trends and issues.


Laing’s intertwining of personal experiences seems somewhat disjointed and out of proportion in terms of their intensity and severity.


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. It feels shameful and alarming, and over time these feelings radiate outwards, making the lonely person increasingly isolated, increasingly estranged. It hurts, in the way that feelings do, and it also has physical consequences that take place invisibly, inside the closed compartments of the body. It advances, is what I’m trying to say, cold as ice and clear as glass, enclosing and engulfing.

Art is a process of transformation, a way of taking the incoherent, painful, and confusing elements of experience and making them into something meaningful, something that resonates with others.


Ameya Score:

The Lonely City is an unusual book that draws upon the intimate experiences of well-known artists to dig deep into the complexities of human psyche. It is a must-read for people who have a taste for the critical analysis of art and literature. On the flip side, this is a rather heavy work that isn’t ideal for someone looking for a light-hearted book meant for a rainy weekend.

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Madhu book review writer at Ameya

A reverential admirer of words, Madhu loves watching them weave their bewitching magic on cozy afternoons.