Crudo, Olivia Laing

 

I’ve been itching to read this since its release, but tightening the financial belt has meant cutting down on book purchases. So, you can imagine my delight at spotting it on the shelves of my local library! (I’m a HUGE supporter of libraries – not only does it allow EVERYONE access to books, but authors receive money every time one of their books is borrowed thanks to the Public Lending Scheme!)

My first encounter with Olivia Laing was when her book The Lonely City was on a reading list at uni this year. I was surprised by how much I loved it as I’d never really thought non-fiction could be so fascinating or evoke such emotion. Her exploration of loneliness is skilfully done, weaving personal experience with the works of artists and raises so many questions about the fundamentals in the relationship between humankind and art.

I had no real preconceptions about Crudo before reading – I’d gathered it could be defined as ‘experimental’ but I’d tried to avoid too many reviews, wanting to just enjoy it with completely fresh eyes. It was a bit of an effort to acclimatise myself with the characters but that only took a couple of chapters. The novel opens with the protagonist Kathy speaking in both first and third person, which was disarming and required concentration – but I love a book that makes me stop and really think.

The novel follows a year in the life of 40 year old Kathy as she tries to adjust to her new marriage in a world which is falling apart. The prose mixes rich imagery with Kathy’s more brusque narrative style, forcing us to ask questions of the world around us as Kathy navigates her way through the summer of 2017.

Laing’s background as a non-fiction writer is apparent as Kathy comments on the politics of the society around her. A favourite quote of mine is when she describes herself as “examining the world by way of her scrying glass, Twitter”, redolent of her examination of the perils of social media in The Lonely City. As she starts to adjust to committing herself to marriage while on honeymoon in Europe, Kathy forces us to consider the notion that individuals are getting rich on the misery of others and how we have become numb, drawing comparisons with the behaviour of the Germans in Nazi Germany through her commentary of a book she is reading by Philip Guston.

What I loved about this book was not the plot or the characterisation but the way that Laing has meshed the narrative with the political situation of the time. Whilst reading, I was forced to stop and think about my own experiences, more so than any other novel I’ve read recently. It’s been described as a “radical rewiring of the novel”, as if we’ve forgotten that the best-written works force us to draw comparisons between what’s on the page and what’s going on in our own lives. It’s beautifully written and compelling.

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