In the City of Love's Sleep

Lavinia Greenlaw

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This is a novel about what it means to fall in love in middle age. We tell ourselves that we know what we’re doing, that we’ve been here before, yet love can be just as blinding and compelling as it was in adolescence. For all we talk about falling in love, name its parts and explain it to each other, it remains something that happens to us. We have no say. If we’ve been through it before, we’re repeating steps that are laden with memory. The past is reactivated and adds its weight to every gesture.

The city is a psychogeographic map of confinements and evasions, enticements and release. The museum objects that Iris and Raif use as a basis for their contact become emblematic and punctuate the narrative. These are all real objects, with which I worked when I was the Science Museum’s first artist-in-residence 20 years ago, and which have remained part of my imaginative terrain. The cloud mirror is a way of observing indirectly without venturing forth, the bone skates a way of crossing emotional ice, the merman a reflection of our composite selves, the anatomical model of a horse an illustration of how we like to name the parts and how we want above all to be described. There is an underlying debate about the actual versus the virtual, and the philosophy of conservation.

It is written in a refracted form, fixing each gesture with which these two people move towards one another, drawing out questions such as What happens when we say yes? Why are we at our best with strangers?

The book is as much an investigation of the contemporary self as it is of our relationships with others: the self as fractured and multiple, invested and unknown; how we confuse speech with action and thought with emotion; how we are never whole or wholly present; and how when emotional change occurs at a tectonic level to which we have little access.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherFaber and Faber
Number of pages336
ISBN (Print)9780571337620
Publication statusPublished - 6 Sept 2018


  • fiction love city object museum memory

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