No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Published by Bloomsbury, 2021
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Seeing this repeatedly described as “experimental” and “a book of two halves” had me intrigued but a little apprehensive heading in, as such novels can often be difficult to connect with emotionally. I’m pleased to say I ended up liking it a lot more than I initially anticipated, and on the contrary, I found it surprisingly moving.
Being more ruminative and thematically driven, there’s not much plot to speak of, per se. The first section is told in a series of largely unrelated vignettes. These consist of random thoughts and moments as experienced by our narrator, a young woman who found unexpected internet fame after an inane tweet (the social media site in question isn’t named, but it’s very obviously twitter) goes viral. The second section is still told in vignettes, but a much more tangible sense of narrative and continuity come into play, when complications in her sister’s pregnancy lead to heartache.
Structurally and visually, the book’s choppy, fragmented nature cleverly reflects the feeling of scrolling through a newsfeed on social media, as you jump from one post to another. It also creates a sense that our narrator lacks focus in life, which changes immediately when tragedy strikes the family. This dramatic shift – from curating a somewhat vapid online persona, to the overwhelming love and pain she must navigate in relation to her baby niece – suggests a critique of the frivolity inherent to much of internet life, and how quickly its seeming importance fades when “real life” hits us with a curveball. That said, we still only see the family’s grief in fleeting moments, mirroring the previously established idea of what we show versus what goes on in private; that we’re only ever piecing together an impression of someone’s life based on the tiny snippets we get to see.
To me, the book ultimately felt like a commentary on the idea that life is indeed a jigsaw puzzle of individual moments, thoughts, feelings, and ideas – from the redundant to the earth shattering and everything in between. However, on a narrative and thematic level, I do think the two threads of the novel could have been tied together in a more cohesive and satisfying way. The merits of the internet, especially in times of hardship, are only every marginally hinted at, but the access to information, community and support it can offer could have been invaluable to someone in the narrator’s situation. In that respect, it felt like there was some untapped potential; the amount of time given over to random tweet-esque musings not wholly justified.
Despite feeling it could have been tied together more convincingly, I devoured the book in just two sittings, and this was largely thanks to Lockwood’s gorgeous prose. I’m not at all surprised to see she has previously published poetry, as the book is peppered with beautiful imagery and lovely turns of phrase. For its originality, timeliness, craft, and emotional impact, I’m glad I gave this a chance.