An unfiltered reaction to the times

Review: Crudo

Author: Olivia Laing

How do we react to Trump and the almost apocalyptic madness of contemporary world events? One could be forgiven for falling into bewilderment, withdrawal or expletive-ridden anger. ‘Crudo’ means ‘raw’ in Italian, and Olivia Laing’s novel attempts an unsanitised, unfiltered reaction to the times, grasping for meaning in a racing, cacophonous world, with punctuation failing to keep up.

The style somewhat emulates that of the novel’s main character, the radical postmodern author Kathy Acker, who died in 1997. Acker wrote fiction but ‘populated it with the already extant’, so there is something appropriately tangled about her being the main character, still alive in 2017 and living out, more or less, Laing’s own experience of Trump, Brexit and getting married.

In true postmodernist fashion, Kathy/Olivia is constantly shifting between the two personas, so that the novel exemplifies the modern feeling that reality is somewhat unreal and we are simultaneously overstimulated and disconnected. Kathy/Olivia is pulled in multiple directions. Should she stay informed and get active, or ignore events? Go protest or go shopping?

The novel is short the way a bomb blast is short. The prose is rich, but, like picking blackberries, one has to negotiate much prickliness. The book is peppered with serious swearing like shotgun pellet spray. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But its more tender side is the hope that the love between a married couple can at least moderate the madness.

Hope can aim wider than this, though. Trump may seem an aberration, but in history it is not unusual for rulers to be madmen enriching themselves and their friends. The frequency of Christians through the ages thinking they were living in the end times is testament to this. But while bewilderment, despair and rage are entirely normal, understandable reactions, the Christian tradition is to quietly focus our attention on those people in the wider community who get left behind.

Nick Mattiske




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