An experimental, auto-fictional debut novel from the author of The Lonely City in which Laing uses a composite of elements from her own life and from the life of punk writer and counterculture provocateur Kathy Acker.
Sometimes, Kathy Acker is very present and masterfully referenced – the hatred of her breasts, the STDs, the live sex show, her mother’s suicide, the poor little rich girl, the creator of herself. Sometimes, it is Laing who is more present as we know her from her work, and sometimes it doesn’t matter at all who is talking, because Crudo seduces from the first sentence. Laing as Acker is not a literary device – it is literary detonation. Everything accelerates from there ... Laing’s prose shimmers and is selfish then, suddenly, full of love. It’s a high-wire act. This is the novel as a love letter to Acker. She gives her a happier ending than the one she had. She asks us what a novel can do when unreality rules. She asks what it is like to be alive when the old order is dying.
Going back and forth between ‘she’ and ‘I’, as if a non-fiction writer were reminding herself to inhabit a character from the inside, the prose is an engine not quite yet warmed to a purr. Or is it deliberately not purring: is it stuttering instead, punk-like in its refusal to keep to the rules of the novel, like the work of Kathy Acker? ... The novel doesn’t have one key, but several keys, with the last probably belonging to Laing herself...The confusion may be part of the appeal ... It could be the novel that has literary London in a tizz this summer isn’t for literary London at all, but written to explain something to one person only.
Laing’s 'Kathy' is a declaration of her own debt to Acker. But the device feels insubstantial: the details that correspond to Acker’s life are so easily separable from those that correspond to Laing’s that Acker functions more like a band T-shirt than a mask, more fetish than disguise, a declaration of the author’s gang ... there is a bounciness and wit and honest self-regard here which the earnest seriousness of Laing’s non-fiction persona didn’t always feature. But this sprezzatura voice, for all its pleasure, risks being complacent too, of lacking the empathy for which it later seems to commend itself when considering refugees and racism ... it becomes clear that Crudo embodies the echo chamber rather than offers a critique of it. Perhaps that’s what Laing intends, but at the same time the novel appears anxious to offer political critique, and the result is a disingenuous tone in which the narrator seems to rejoice in the divisions of British society while simultaneously condemning them.