I’d registered the big splash Patricia Lockwood’s memoir Priestdaddy had made back in 2017 but hadn’t got around to reading it. She’s known for her presence on Twitter, something that had passed me by but it was the social media theme that made me put up my hand when her first novel, No One Is Talking About This, was pitched being addicted it to myself – only mildly, or at least that’s what I like to think – and fascinated by its effects. Lockwood’s novel follows a woman whose life is lived on what she calls the portal until, one day, she’s brought up short by a text from her mother.
Every day their attention must turn, like the shine on a school of fish, all at once, towards a new person to hate. Sometimes the subject was a war criminal, but other times it was someone who made a heinous substitute in guacamole
When our unnamed protagonist posts the question ‘Can a dog be twins?’ it goes viral. She finds herself travelling the world, invited to speak on platforms alongside other internet celebrities, opining on all sorts of things, her views gleaned from her constant scrolling. Now and again her husband pulls her out of the portal but without it she’s fretful. What will she miss? How will she know what to think? Might she commit some terrible faux pas and be condemned by the hive mind? Real life is a mere backdrop for the internet, rudely intruding now and again until, when she’s in Vienna at her latest speaking gig, a text pops up on her phone: ‘Something has gone wrong… …How soon can you get here ?’ What ensues is a small tragedy that opens our protagonist to love, empathy and the messy emotions of reality lived in the world rather than via a screen.
It was a mistake to believe that other people were not living as deeply as you were. Besides, you were not even living that deeply
Lockwood’s novel is a fragmented clickbait narrative that reminded me a little of Emma Unsworth’s Adults, one of last year’s favourites for me. Both very funny and alarmingly familiar at times, it explores a multitude of trivia rabbit holes, some hate-filled, in a way that those of us who’ve spent too much time on social media will find familiar. It’s not a novel for linear narrative afficionados – even when our protagonist is pulled out of the portal and faced with reality it remains episodic – but it mimics the fragmentation of the internet, and of our minds as a result, squirmingly accurately. Within a few pages I’d jotted down several quotable gems but gave up, fearing this review might turn into one long quote. Very much a novel for our times: sharp, savvy and, ultimately, sobering, I preferred it to last week’s similarly themed Fake Accounts.
Bloomsbury Circus: London 9781526629760 224 pages Hardback