CRUDO by Olivia Laing


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The political and personal chaos of the summer of 2017 as it tumbles through the consciousness of a writer named Kathy.

With this brief, breathless experimental novel, Laing (The Lonely City, 2016, etc.) has left the world of literary nonfiction behind and planted an explorer's flag in an unusual, individual destination somewhere on the continent of fiction. The narrative begins with Kathy's arrival in England on a plane from New York. She is met by her fiance, who we will eventually learn is also a writer, 29 years older than she. At this early point in the story, there is also another man in her life, but this turns out to be no big deal—that kind of plot is not the focus here, though Kathy will at some point get married and, at some time after that, will actually fall in love. A focus at least as prominent as this "love story" is creating a record of the ongoing avalanche of terrible news that characterizes this time in the age of Trump and Brexit, the threat of war with North Korea, various terrorist incidents, murders of innocents, Steve Bannon's resignation, etc. Another major concern is the overlap of the narrator with the character of the late transgressive feminist writer Kathy Acker. Since the real Kathy Acker died in 1997, this Kathy can't be that Kathy, but on the first page of the book, she is credited with writing Acker's books, and lines from Acker's work are woven through the text and footnoted at the end. This Kathy is close to that Kathy in body and spirit. "The best thing about breast cancer was the double mastectomy, lop them both off she said, I'd always hated them. Hair cropped, skinny, flat-chested, she was a lovely dickless boy, a wrinkling Dorian Gray, finding her jewels....She was indeterminate and oversexed, a hot chrysalis, and if she'd had a dick you better believe it would be perfect, at least as good as David Bowie's." To enjoy this book, you have to stop trying to understand it. If you can, you may well experience a warm sense of recognition at the absurdity and impossibility of trying to carry on a life in these times.

Mysterious, bizarre, frustrating, weirdly smart, and pretty cool.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2018
ISBN: 978-0-393-65272-7
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2018


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