Olivia Laing: Crudo (130 pages)
A novel quite unlike any other I have read: engaging, page-turning, eccentric, scandalising, disorientating, misdirecting – carried out with aplomb. Reading it “cold” it seems to employ an odd splitting with the narrator and main character being both Laing and someone called Kathy, switching between the first and third person, apparently randomly. It opens:
“Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married. Kathy, by which I mean I, had just got off a plane from New York.“
There is no spoiler in telling that the notes at the end of the book make it clear that Laing has been inspired by the life and works of Kathy Acker – writer, artist, provocateur – and many of the more interesting (scandalising) quotes and anecdotes are lifted from Acker’s work (“My life is delicate – more delicate than my cunt”). The closest I can get to a category is a sort of autobiography as imagined by someone else, told with brio and conviction. It is testament to Laing’s skill that none of this ever seems “wrong” or “forced”. Adding to this sense of permeability is the fact that Laing’s career has been in non-fiction, thus far at least, and some of the details are apparently based on Laing’s biography.
We whirlwind through Kathy’s marriage – the days leading up, and the event itself – inhabit her thoughts as she ponders what it means for her previously untrammelled lifestyle, whether it is what she wants – granting always that she loves the groom to be, who is a fine man, by all her accounts – and how she will wear the vows and expectations: not least the expectation that she has to consider someone else when thinking about consequences to her actions or words. Her intended is an older, English man – both the age and the fact of his Englishness seem to be of importance to Kathy, in that to her it confers a sense of worldliness, of “knowing things” and of a rootedness, all of which she appears to judge herself as lacking.
Simultaneously, Kathy is trying to comprehend the Trump / Brexit axis of self-harm nonsense that western electorates seem to have foisted on themselves, while also worrying more broadly about “The State of The World”. Kathy lives a five-star hotel lifestyle, flitting across the globe on what seems like a weekly basis. She is almost never off-line – checking news updates, Twitter etc which feed both her desire to be up to date on the important issues, and her crippling anxiety.
The novel is undoubtedly clever, it is also exhilirating, funny and raw. It seems to be written by two writers holding the same pen.