To the River

A Journey Beneath the Surface

Olivia Laing

A river passing through a landscape catches the world and gives it back redoubled: a shifting, glinting world more mysterious than the one we customarily inhabit. Rivers run through our civilisations like strings through beads
To the River (Paperback ISBN 9781847677938) cover artwork

Available as Paperback, eBook

‘A gentle, wise and riddling book. Its prose, like the river it describes, flows intricately, unpredictably and often beautifully, carrying the fascinated reader onwards’ Robert Macfarlane

To the River is the story of the Ouse, the Sussex river in which Virginia Woolf drowned in 1941. One idyllic, midsummer week over sixty years later, Olivia Laing walked Woolf’s river from source to sea. The result is a passionate investigation into how history resides in a landscape - and how ghosts never quite leave the places they love.


“A gentle, wise and riddling book. Its prose, like the river it describes, flows intricately, unpredictably and often beautifully, carrying the fascinated reader onwards”
Robert Macfarlane

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“Without wanting to sound gushing, her writing at its sublime best reminds me of Richard Mabey’s nature prose and the poetry of Alice Oswald. Like these two, and John Clare before them, Laing seems to lack a layer of skin, rendering her susceptible to the smallest vibrations of the natural world as well as to the frailties of the human psyche.”
the Times

“A magical book … her dreamy prose evokes a modern Alice, an hallucinatory tale told with one hand trailing in cool green water, while she wishes out folklore and science, history and biography … By turns lyrical, melancholic and exultant, To the River just makes you want to follow Olivia Laing all the way to the sea.”
sunday Telegraph

“A brave, distinctive, and deeply intelligent addition to that protean genre mixing nature, history and travel writing which is becoming one of the richest forms of contemporary British literature… There are passages of masterfully timed lyricism”
literary Review

“Olivia Laing is a new and thoughtful voice in the tradition of W.G. Sebald. I confidently expect it to be listed in this year’s favourite books”
daily Telegraph


Olivia Laing

Olivia Laing lives in Brighton. Between 2007 and 2009, she was the Observer’s Deputy Books Editor. She writes and reviews widely, for the Observer, the New Statesman, the TLS and the Guardian among other publications. She has a first class BSc (Hons) in herbal medicine, and practised as a medical herbalist for several years before becoming a journalist, specialising in the treatment of anxiety and depression. Olivia Laing has been awarded a MacDowell Fellowship and grants from the Arts Council and Author’s Foundation to work on her second book, which will be published by Canongate in 2013.