What does it mean to be married? What is intimacy and how does one share their life with someone? But, most of all, how do we love in a time like this?
Olivia Laing’s (To The River, The Lonely City) Crudo is a novel set in the horrifying British Summer of 2017 – post-Brexit, Trump’s incendiary tweets, Grenfell tower – and it documents Kathy’s relationship with her soon-to-be husband as she attempts to yoke her own life (and love) with the surrounding political turmoil. In this book, nothing really happens to Kathy. Instead, everything happens around her while she is coming to terms with love.
Crudo means raw, and at its core, Crudo is just that. At first, I was shocked and balked at how brutally and bluntly Laing criticized the world around her, but in an age of editing and careful curation of the self, it was refreshing to see her question the meaning of art, the self, modern love, and monogamy. It’s not the honey-colored, rose-tinted, perfectly edited love we are so used to seeing, instead it’s a celebration of the mundanity of a long-term relationship, and the intimacy that comes with that. Most poignant was the statement – “if this was love she’d take it, lying next to him naked, both fiddling with their phones” – which made me laugh at its accuracy, at the absolute crudo of the description. This is followed by ice-cream and creating new vows on their one week anniversary, “I vow to wash up more, I vow to be less of a dick.”
It has been noted by the author herself that this novel is a piece of fiction in which she heavily uses her own life as inspiration, and was written over seven weeks in that very summer. It is a true account of exactly what it was like to live in that world, to wake up and witness horror unfold in a series of tweets, or to open Instagram and see vegetables photographed like renaissance paintings and girls advertising an unattainable life alongside photographs of refugees washed up dead and fire devastating entire communities.
I found myself getting to the end of the book before I thought I would, not only because Kathy’s narrative voice is so arresting and open, but also because there are pages and pages of references under the title ‘Something Borrowed’ (a nod to matrimony). It was once I began to read the references that I realized that the novel is compiled from not only the life of the author herself, but tweets, and other works of literature, in particular, the works of Kathy Acker. She plays with the concepts of fiction and non-fiction – warps and molds them – and it brings into question what a ‘traditional’ novel actually is.
As this is all set over one Summer, it’s an awareness of the seasons that pervade the narrative. Summer, perpetual as it may seem, comes to an end, as do seasons in life. And after Summer comes Autumn, the season of death and decay, the season of looming darkness. While Crudo languishes in Summer, Kathy notices that it is “definitely almost Autumn” and with the change of seasons, will there be a change in politics too? Will things get better in the world? If not, then at least there will still be intimacy, there will still be love, there will still be hope.