“Outside the water in the pool was green and the balconies were luxuriant as usual, draped in foliage, bright with geraniums, maybe also begonias.” Kathy was late, she had to go to another gallery, she was walking with very long strides, sunglasses on, trying to get one over on the clock. Her meeting was supposed to be about art, but actually it was just gossip, this often happened, presumably not just to her. She ate a bendy biscuit, drank her seventh glass of fizzy water. Stories about brothers, nephews, dealers, collectors, stories about people arriving too early, people being embarrassed, being on the outside and trying to get in, only later it turned out the outside was smarter.
Outside the water in the pool was green and the balconies were luxuriant as usual, draped in foliage, bright with geraniums, maybe also begonias.
At the start of Olivia Laing’s debut novel Crudo, the protagonist Kathy is getting married. It is the summer of 2017 and the world is falling apart and Kathy is getting married to a much older man. Which is funny because Olivia Laing herself got married in the summer of 2017 – when the whole world felt like it was falling apart – to a much older man.
Art imitates life in this book, written in five garrulous chunks and taking place over a very small space of time as we see Kathy struggle with the state of the world as she contemplates her own evolution from wild 20-something into mature woman ready to commit for as long as they both shall live.
The book has that kind of frenetic, barely contained energy of the build up before a big event. In that way it reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, and the way in which the party at the heart of the novel seems to loom, larger-than-life, over everything else in the book. Kathy’s impending marriage is almost like another character in Crudo, more discussed and more detailed than even her impending husband himself. A friend who read the book before I did, and who was married in the summer of 2018, told me that this is what getting married is like. I have to say I took her word for it.
I’ve loved Laing’s writing for a long time, ever since I read The Lonely City, the author’s collection of essays on loneliness and the creation of art at a certain time in New York, a few years ago. It felt to me that this was the first book that had truly captured what it might be like to be lonely, to be clothed in your loneliness, to wear it like a jumper, or a scarf, to feel its presence in your life at all times.
In many interviews Laing has written about how those feelings of loneliness rarely leave you entirely. She has written about how loneliness is there in many marriages. Sometimes, she has noted, you can be more lonely in a partnership as you can be on your own.
That might be true, but for Kathy and for Laing herself, fused as she is with her protagonist, I don’t think that is the case. Crudo is a book about how marriage to the right person can be an anchor, not a weight. “Love is the world, pain is the world,” Laing writes at one point. “She was in it now.”