Published by Bloomsbury Circus
PATRICIA Lockwood is a poet and internet bard, whose memoir Priestdaddy, about her father’s ordination as a Catholic priest, was a worldwide hit. Her first novel airs the writer’s poetic proclivities, and also mirrors somewhat the disconnected, short bursts of content imbibed by thirsty internet users as they go about their daily (hourly) social media scrolls.
Constructed in two parts, the first is a long series of brief paragraphs and passages, loosely connected by barely discernible offline interactions with the unnamed protagonist’s husband and family.
It’s hard to get into a flow; when you’re aimlessly reading Tweets or sliding through your Facebook newsfeed, or tapping through Instagram stories, at least you have visual aids to help with perspective.
Here, random thoughts and jokes, musings and observations are presented as random collections on endless pages, which I found not unlike reading someone’s bedside dream-journal, that contains observations written down in a frenzy while half asleep, some hits but mostly misses.
There are funny bits, quite a few passages that made me chuckle, mostly in recognition of situations I too have found myself in, or insecurities, unreasonably neurotic thoughts I share with the writer. I came of age in the same era as Lockwood did, so would be of the target demographic to ‘get’ the unconventional structure the first section, and the sometimes boundary-pushing humour.
Saying that, I’m not sure it quite works. According to the acknowledgements, the first half was given as a lecture at the British Library in 2019, and I’ve since learned that it was accompanied by a multi-media display.
This makes so much more sense in the context of the immersive world the author is trying to provoke, that of being inside the head of a person who spends much of their waking hours online, switching from one social media channel to the next, grappling with reactions to real-world occurrences and dealing with the random thoughts that pop into one’s head at any given time.
It isn’t until Part Two that a more traditional, and in my mind more successful narrative emerges. A family crisis forces the heroine back to her home town, to be with her sister and further extended family. The dynamics of the group are seen from only one perspective, but in that it’s an interesting further insight into how an individual interacts with the world.
The trauma that the family finds itself in is enough to jolt each member out of their ordinary lives, and their personal ways of living them. For our protagonist, it’s as if she has come out of her content-creating obsessed mind and finally managed to live in the real world.
As Part Two continues, a story of grief and dealing with catastrophe by taking it day by day comes to light. It feels intimate, and authentic, and is very sensitively told, which is at odds with some of the cruder elements of the former part of the story.
The portal, as the internet is referred to as by the narrator, becomes a place where your wildest thoughts and dreams, most controversial opinions and arguments are laid out for the world to see. But still, there are things that no one is talking about, to paraphrase the title.
Consider the influencers and social media stars of today, who appear to document their every move. The truth often emerges that these perfect lives being presented are semi-fictional, and very carefully cultivated to appear in control.
Your Zoom meeting corner is reflects this; the tidy bookshelf background and fancy coffee cup belying your regular tea-stained mug that came free with an Easter egg, and the mountain of laundry hiding just out of shot.
No one Is Talking About This is far from faultless, but on reflection is an experiment in narrative that ultimately pays off. Getting through the first bit is worth it to get to the second, (and there’s no point in skipping it, the two parts make the whole).
Part Two is fundamentally a survivor story, and a family saga for the modern age. Humorous and heart-breaking, it’s a portal, if you will, out of the pressures and expectations of life online.
- First Published in The Tuam Herald on 31 03 21