Poetic, gripping, and unarguably unique, No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood is a novel on social media that we didn’t know we needed. Lockwood has taken a now well-worn, over-analysed aspect of modern society, and injected it with an impressive poignancy. What follows is a novel that crosses genres, stomping unapologetically through the barriers of language to offer a different perspective on what it truly means to be plugged in, and alive.
Make no mistake – this book will not appeal to all. Lockwood’s stream of consciousness-style prose takes a while to warm to, especially during Part One, when the narrator’s concentration is barely held together by a loose interest in the world around her, focused instead on the constantly evolving ‘portal’ (her term for social media), and the deluge of imposing voices.
Part One gives us a sense of who the narrator is in an outward sense – she is witty, portraying herself as someone tapped in and embracing this internet culture, however strange and absurd. She gains sharp fame through her ridiculous viral posts on the portal, after which she is invited to speak on various topics while travelling the globe. On the surface, it is a life that seems fun and enviable, but we also get the feeling that something is missing.
In being so engrossed in the sporadic mind of the portal, the narrator’s mind and writing are often hard to decipher. Distant, yet peppered with reflections on humanity, there are clearly multiple sides to her personality that she is struggling to portray and/or control. Initially, she is a difficult and frustrating character to come to terms with. Although her musings are funny and make you pause for thought, we are itching for something behind the funny analyser of memes and content mill.
While Part One reads like a series of loosely connected phrases and thoughts, intentionally mimicking the portal and therefore having the desired effect, Part Two of No One Is Talking About This taps into the vulnerability of existence and the meaning behind it all.
The narrator is faced with unimaginable heartbreak and drifts away from her virtual comfort blanket for the literal support of family. The days move much slower – time is far more precious in this new situation she finds herself in. Lockwood’s skills as a poet come into full effect during these passages; the intensity of the love the narrator feels for her niece is breathtakingly described. I felt completely pulled in by the grief and also snatches of happiness, the normalcy among the fear.
This delicate and innocent figure, unscathed by the madness of society, seems to offer a fresh perspective for the narrator when it comes to establishing her purpose. Overnight, she becomes needed on a whole other level – and she too needs something from this fragile life. The depth that was perhaps missing from the previous pages is realised. A tender tale of grief follows, and I especially loved the way Lockwood described the intimate, physical connections between the narrator and child. These small moments of touch were extraordinary, on so many levels.
Because of this split, the novel does indeed present itself as two different stories. I’m not sure how I felt about this. On one hand, it was interesting to see the comparison between the Part One and Part Two narrator and to witness her transformation as she moves away from the portal and reconnects with reality when tragedy strikes. After the event, she struggles to dip back into the portal, finding herself disconnected and overwhelmed by the voices she used to not only be a part of but largely command.
However, the two sections could easily function as successful, interesting narratives in their own right, without necessarily the need for each other. Instead, I had entirely different reading experiences over the course of one sitting (the novel is short enough to be read in just a couple of hours), moving from enjoyment at the witty analyses of something I know well, to sadness at the beautiful portrayal of the loss that follows. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I can’t help but wonder if this was the author’s true intention, to divide them so dramatically like this.
Nonetheless, No One Is Talking About This is unarguably an unforgettable and impressive book, and surely a triumph of a debut novel from Lockwood. The style and content will divide readers, but it will spark conversations. The delicately written scenes still linger in my mind, and I’ve no doubt that this Women’s Prize Shortlisted book is a worthy and mighty contender.
No One Is Talking About This is published by Bloomsbury Books and is available here.
Patricia Lockwood is an American poet, novelist, and essayist. Her memoir Priestdaddy was named one of the 10 best books of 2017 by The New York Times Book Review. In 2021, her debut novel No One Is Talking About This was released to critical acclaim.
Reviewed by Mariah Feria
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