Do you ever get those books that just live in your online shopping basket forever? This was one of those books. I was interested in reading it but not enough to actually go through with it. I guess I just wasn’t totally convinced by the premise. I mean, another book that wanted to explore the impact of your online life on your real life? Yeah, we haven’t seen something like that before. I know this was nominated for a bunch of stuff but it just sounded like the kind of book that had the potential to be disappointing. So, I didn’t really feel like wasting money on the hardback. It was only when the audiobook came up on Audible for £3 that I decided to give it a go. The fact that it was also under 5 hours long helped my decision. I’ve been getting behind on my schedule quite regularly at the moment, which is why I’m posting this on Friday instead of Wednesday as usual. It’s too hot to read and writer anything.
Nowadays, we’re used to the idea of online and offline personas being different. So many people are leading double lives these days: one on the internet and one in real life. This is a novel that tries to bring the two worlds together. It’s not surprising considering Patricia Lockwood’s own relationship with social media. She gained quite the following on Twitter thanks to her humorous posts and poetry. Then there’s the fact that her poem “Rape Joke” became a viral sensation when she posted it online. Lockwood has a long relationship with the internet and it must have helped her to capture the spirit of modern life in her debut novel.
The book is split into two sections and follows an unnamed protagonist who has become something of a social influence star. In the first part, she has embarked on a tour to speak about her experience with “the Portal” and interact with her fellow internet dwellers. It is presented as a stream of consciousness that explores life and the strange mix of people you can meet on social media. We get a glimpse into her strange life and quirky personality as well as the virtual world that she has created for herself. It all works pretty well for her until reality comes crashing through. The second part of the book begins after a couple of text messages from her mother: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” This autofictional section brings us into the middle of a family tragedy. With the real world suddenly becoming so real, life in the Portal suddenly starts to look quite different.
The internet is both an escape and a way to present an unseen side of yourself. You can be the person you want to be with less fear and can showcase your talents to a wide range of people. The right kind of person can find a huge audience for their own brand of humanity. At its best, the internet is evidence of the creativity, goodness and social connection that exists in the world. Of course, on the other hand, there is plenty of evidence of the opposite. We all know that for some, the anonymity of the web is like an invitation to be the worst possible version of yourself. Lockwood sees this duality and explores it alongside a real-world tragedy.
Her first novel has plenty of great observations about modern society and human behaviour. The first section will really speak to anyone who has spent too much time living on the internet. For the kind of person who exhausted themselves trying to keep up with the latest memes and trends. The people who did whatever they good to feel part of that worldwide community. It speaks of a very specific age and a very specific type of person. It is also the perfect set-up for Lockwood’s more lyrical style. It’s a book that has been compared to Virginia Woolf and James Joyce for good reason. She has created a sort of dreamlike reality that really captures a human mind. It’s chaotic and confusing.
It also gets kind of annoying. For me, the book is far too preoccupied with providing pithy commentary on social media than it is about its overall message. I get that Lockwood is trying to get deep about all things social media but it feels so superficial. This is probably the point but I did find myself zoning out. It’s all style and not as much substance as I’d have liked. The first part of the book relies too heavily on internet culture and references to make jokes. It’s that Ready Player One attitude of ‘name a thing and fans of the thing will like it’. It got old quite quickly and the lyrical language really didn’t do anything to improve the situation. I was sure that I was going to end up hating this book.
This is why I was so grateful for the second part. I don’t want to give too much away but it was beautiful and devastating. There are so many emotions and interesting perspectives in this section that I wish it had been allowed to exist on its own. That it was able to showcase its power without the need to contextualise itself in the age of social media. I know that’s essentially the point, but the two parts of the book never fit together fully if I’m honest. I guess that Lockwood wanted the two sections to feel separate whilst also together to show the difference between reality and social media. However, I don’t think the two parts really come together as much as they should. It’s not that No One is Talking About This is a bad book. Quite the opposite. It’s beautifully written and has lots of good stuff. The problem is how much hype there is around it. It’s good but is it that good?