Crudo by Olivia Laing

Crudo, an Italian word for raw, used most often when describing fish, is the title of the debut novel from nonfiction writer Olivia Laing. The narrator might be Kathy Acker iconoclast punk author – she says that she is. However, Kathy Acker died in 1997 and this Kathy is definitely living in the northern hemisphere summer of 2017 when it seemed to many in the West that the world was starting to gather speed towards its own destruction.

Kathy is turning 40, and getting married. She is attaching herself to someone else. She is deciding to leave her essential aloneness. ‘You think you know yourself inside out when you live alone, but you don’t … you do not realise how irritable you are … because you have not learnt how to soften your borders, how to make room.’

Kathy is also living and grappling with what one should be doing as the world is ending.

This avant-garde, stream-of-consciousness novel is an engrossing journey through the interiority of Kathy and the exteriority of a turbulent northern-hemisphere summer.

Olivia Laing has given us a Kathy who is struggling to reconcile the interior and exterior, the cause of feeling and the effect of action. As Kathy says early on: ‘There was currently … a problem with putting things together.’ Kathy wrestles continuously with the effects of a constant news cycle in which nothing can be ignored and yet nothing can be concentrated on: ‘She missed the sense of time as something serious and diminishing, she didn’t like living in the permanent present of the id.’

As the real Kathy Acker championed the use of existing art, so does Olivia Laing have the Kathy of Crudo draw from many past avant-garde artists who chronicled the coming of Fascism. In one powerful scene Laing brings to culmination all Kathy’s musing on young alt-right Nazis with a clear statement of Kathy’s affinity with Christopher Isherwood’s Christopher and His Kind, the author’s memoir of his decade in the queer, avant-garde Berlin arts scene that flowered as Fascism rose.

Marie Matteson is a book buyer at Readings Carlton.

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Olivia Laing

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