No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood, No One is Talking About This (Bloomsbury Circus: 2021, 9781526629760)

So. This is awkward.  Not my favourite book. Most people seem to either like the book or show deference to its (alleged) formal experimentation, so this rant review is but a drop in the ocean and meant light-heartedly.

In No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, the unnamed protagonist (I’m just gonna shorten it to P) is a jet-setting influencer who is addicted to social media and barely engages with the ‘real’ world. She thinks in memes and only in terms of trends and internet humour. The first half of the novel is made up of short sections that describe social media posts and peripherally, the occasional real-life interaction in P’s life. There are accurate observations about how we got here and what we have become, and mildly amusing literary references. In the second half P is pulled out of what she calls “the portal” (yeah, my eyes are still rolling) to attend to a family situation. Some very important themes are raised such as reproductive rights and healthcare. The moments of grief and joy are genuinely deeply moving because they are tightly condensed in brief passages with interesting language and imagery. Unfortunately, there are too few moments of this and they did not stay with me.

But back to the beginning. P gained internet fame from a tweet: “Can dogs be twins?” The book acknowledges that becoming so celebrated for this is ridiculous, ramming us over the head with it by having someone ask her, “This is your contribution to society?” In her loops through “the portal” (eyes rolling, still), P laments that “It was so tiring to have to catch each new virus, produce the perfect sneeze of it, and then mutate it into something new.” This captures today’s obsession with trends and keeping up with the constant regurgitation of content on social media. Okay, great. What a visionary. But, mate. Just chill it with the screen time. I get that the book is supposed to illustrate that the internet turns us all into undiscerning zombies. But she is a grown woman. Get a grip.

P jet-setting

The book reads like one long affectation. It is dripping with smugness, as if every ‘vignette’ came with its own self-satisfied smirk and pat on its own back. Look at how funny and acid I am! It has not a drop of subtlety. For me the biggest irony of the book is P’s remark that “all writing about the portal so far had a strong whiff of old white intellectuals being weird about the blues, with possible boner involvement. Sixty-year-old cartoonists had also tried to contend with the issue, but the best they could do was sad doodles of a person with a Phone for a Face who was scrolling through like a tiny little Face in His Hand.” That’s how this novel comes off to me: a learn-ed self-proclaimed ‘cool kid’ who in actuality has a “strong whiff of old white intellectuals” and once life comes calling fancies herself too enlightened for the net.

Is this book original? I guess? Is it rare for non-traditional forms to enter the mainstream? Yes. But it does not reinvent any wheels. Disjointed narratives are nothing new. You would have to go back a shit-ton of decades for that. It just appears to be new because it is placed amongst more traditional novels, which dominate charts and displays in chain bookstores.

At the end (spoiler alert! Stop reading now if you plan on reading the book), after her sister’s baby sadly passed away, the protagonist could have gone back into “the portal” (I think I broke my eyes) but, dear reader, rejoice! – she went dancing and someone “slid her phone out of her pocket and she lifted off her feet, lighter. Her whole self was on it, if anyone wanted.” Deep stuff. P is hashtag-blessed without the hashtag.

Original? Meh. As clever as it tells itself it is? Nah. No One is Talking About This is the new “Can dog be twins?”.

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