Just after the midpoint of No One Is Talking About This the narrator (known only as “she”) meets a man and experiences a very specific kind of intimacy. They share “something even better than being soulmates … they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online”.
Reading this short, infuriating and very entertaining novel, I felt the same recognition. As Patricia Lockwood piles up allusions to Twitter memes and in-jokes about that social media site, only two reactions are possible: the not-online will feel total and healthy incomprehension, but the too-online will know that they are in the company of a kindred spirit.
So there is no point complaining about this novel’s disjointedness (it’s written as a series of short, sequential vignettes), its precocious and knowing tone, its insular references to the world of the internet. If you understand these things well enough, you belong to the world of the novel, and any annoyance rebounds on yourself. Even the title is a piece of Twitter argot, soaked in irony — people on that social media site are always saying “no one is talking about this”, usually about things that people are in fact talking about or that aren’t worth talking about anyway.
They share “something even better than being soulmates … they were exactly, and happily, and hopelessly, the same amount of online.”
No One Is Talking About This is full of sharp, funny observations about life in “the portal”, as Twitter is referred to throughout. The narrator, laboring to have correct opinions, bemoans that her mother was only a high-school librarian. “If only my mother had been a college librarian, she thought! Then I would have had a real shot at the right ideas.”
It’s a perfect crack at the elitism of the online world’s supposed equality. She also nails the self-interest at the core of Twitter’s pretended high-mindedness: “Callout culture! Were things rapidly approaching the point where even you would be seen as bad?”
Lockwood can do this so expertly because she, like her narrator, is an artist of the too-online. She has published two collections of poetry and the entertaining memoir Priestdaddy, but is at her easiest, and strangest, on Twitter.
Even the title is a piece of Twitter argot, soaked in irony — people on that social media site are always saying “no one is talking about this”, usually about things that people are in fact talking about.
The narrator here becomes famous for a tweet that reads: “Can a dog be twins?” In consequence of this fame, she gives a lecture on internet culture at the British Museum. Lockwood has given that same lecture. It consisted of her reading from a diary that she had written in the third person “because I no longer felt like myself”. The opening of this novel is, almost word-for-word, identical to that diary and elaborates from there.
Does that mean this isn’t a novel at all? No One Is Talking About This hinges on a specific and painful event that is matched in Lockwood’s life. The narrator’s sister has a baby with a life-limiting congenital illness, as did Lockwood’s. This event shakes the narrator out of the portal’s studied vacuity. “Oh,” she thinks as news of the baby’s condition reaches her, “have I been wasting my time?”
But — and this is a terrible thing to say about fiction drawing on a personal tragedy — the baby feels like a sentimental device. Loving such a child is often (and I’m drawing on someone else’s personal tragedy here) shatteringly painful, but in the novel the baby is a visitation from a wiser sphere, “a little Golden Girl who had lived a hundred years, who stared out … with the scepticism that came from having seen everything”.
The child fortuitously resets the narrator’s dysfunctional relationship with the internet. If I find that too much, perhaps I’m not after all the exact same amount of online as Lockwood.