Olivia Sudjic’s Exposure: A Personal Response
1. the state of having no protection from something harmful
2. the revelation of something secret, especially something embarrassing or damaging
3. the action of exposing a photographic film to light
– The Oxford English Dictionary
The word exposure, for me, is connotationally loaded. As a creative, it comes with a mixture of desire and dread: it’s something we crave just the right amount of, enough to secure the next job without shame or embarrassment, our vulnerability aired in measured amounts on acceptable stages. As a woman, it is something inextricably tied to the body, to the voice; it’s what I choose to put out, cover up, or express. As a person with an anxiety-related condition, I have come to understand its therapeutic potential; by exposing oneself to the feared contaminant, one can, over time, decrease that fear.
Olivia Sudjic’s Exposure is a longform essay that reads like a novel-monologue hybrid; it fluctuates between scientific clarity and multi-clausal autobiography, tempered by the occasional bracketed aside. It's a brilliant encapsulation of the hypocrisies and challenges faced by female writers, writers of auto fiction and women in the public eye, as well as documenting Sudjic’s experience of living with anxiety on a more personal level. Sudjic is no stranger to prodigal achievement and sudden artistic exposure (she was awarded the prestigious E.G. Harwood English Prize at Cambridge and her debut novel, Sympathy, received critical acclaim from the likes of Vogue, The Guardian, and The New Yorker), and what she does masterfully is capture the intricate ironies of the Type A mind. As Sarah Wilson puts it in first we make the beast beautiful, “the more anxious we are, the more high-functioning we will make ourselves appear, which just encourages the world to lean on us more.” Sudjic not only iterates this experience, but also places her reader inside it:
“In Brussels I was avoiding calls from family and friends. They thought I was absorbed in work. I didn’t want to say how difficult I was finding it. […] In the bathroom it was a surprise to see myself reflected in the mirror and for a moment I saw a stranger. I’d almost forgotten that the nihilism and rising panic were attached to a body with a face.”
Her narrative style, described by reviews as ‘knotty’, ‘smart’, ‘incisive’ and ‘blistering,’ feels like a mirror to a painfully articulate mind. Sudjic explores authorship, mental health, female subjectivity and more, all captured with consummate resilience and the life-altering clarity of the too-often-forgotten 3AM revelation. It’s extremely refreshing.
Described by Sinead Gleeson as expertly examining “the anxieties around writing,” Exposure is brilliant in its reflection of the anxious experience and its intersections with feminism, creativity and life: “Anxiety asks ‘what if?’, the same question a writer […] must ask herself each time she sits at her desk.” Sudjic describes her anxiety as “a destructive but ultimately generative force,” one which “seems essential not just for living but for creativity.” The most powerful feat of Exposure is her ability to prove that she takes this “force” and makes something of it, reforming her anxiety into something steely, incisive, and beautiful.
Georgia Andrews is a freelance actor, writer and facilitator currently based in East London (via Helsinki, Philadelphia and the Midlands). When not writing, acting or embracing “funemployment”, she can be found tending to her fifteen houseplants or curled up with a book.