TLDR: A fragmentary story that mimics quite well the feeling of the internet and how vast and random it is, this book nonetheless can feel a bit too unstructured at times. Although it does have established characters and themes, the first half of this book especially lacks an A-to-B plot, which often made me tune out. If the summary didn’t explain what was going on, I would have had little idea. That being said, the actual critique of the internet (the ‘portal,’ as the main character terms it), can be both funny and insightful, and the book isn’t a long read.
Book: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood
Audiobook narrated by: Kristen Sieh
Synopsis: A woman known for her viral social media posts travels the world speaking to her adoring fans, her entire existence overwhelmed by the internet – or what she terms ‘the portal’. Are we in hell? the people of the portal ask themselves. Are we all just going to keep doing this until we die?
Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: ‘Something has gone wrong,’ and ‘How soon can you get here?’ As real life and its stakes collide with the increasing absurdity of the portal, the woman confronts a world that seems to contain both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.
(Reading time: 1 min)
I listened to the audiobook of this. It was brilliantly narrated, with great tone shifts, and the format works well to convey the stream of consciousness format of the story. Plus, it was easier to keep going with this story via audiobook, because even as I got a bit bored in the beginning, I could just keep on listening without any active involvement.
Where the audiobook fails, I think, is that you lose out even moreso on structure, and despite the clear narration style, I felt like I had no idea where the main character was several times, either physically in the book or within the plot of the story. (Also: I don’t know if there are just no chapters in the book, but they’re never read aloud in the audiobook, which certainly didn’t help me to form a clearer idea on what was going on). I wouldn’t recommend the audiobook over the book.
So what is this book about? The summary pretty much tells all. The story follows a woman travelling the world, or engaging with her followers, or something like that – I was very confused for a lot of it, I will admit. Despite that, I don’t think the fragmentary style is that much of a deal-breaker: it’s more about the vibes, the importance of what is being said. This isn’t about influencer social media, it’s protest social media – environmental decay and police brutality – and everyday social media – endless Twitter threads and hundreds of replies in every variation of ‘mood’. Although it is a story of this woman told in bits and pieces, its structure mimics the ‘everything goes’ social media. There are definitely many important points made in the midst of it, like the way the internet’s mass communication can be actively helpful and uplifting.
There is a switch halfway through the book, where the tone shifts abruptly, separating the book into ‘internet’ and ‘real life.’ I definitely found the second half more impactful and emotional than the first, but I also appreciated that the story didn’t forget who its character was, and that she’s a woman who lives in ‘the portal,’ and that this doesn’t leave her. Instead, her engagement with the internet changes. For example, in the midst of a tragic moment, she recalls a post about a prisoner who, after spending so much time in solitary confinement, asks people to send him pictures of life in motion. This kind of realistic integration of online and irl is where I think this book prevails where other, similar ones haven’t.
I felt like, ultimately, this book will be preferred by the type of people who both spend a lot of time on the internet, but also enjoy discussing why and how we all spend a lot of time on the internet, rather than the type of people (which I include myself in), who really couldn’t care less about the analysis of it all. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly find many aspects of internet culture interesting from a sociological perspective, and I enjoy writings about it, but mostly I enjoy it in a non-fiction, short-essay manner, rather than a whole, fictional novel. Although it’s an interesting book, it ultimately fails to hold my attention consistently.
I like the idea of this novel. I like the in-jokes and meme references (despite the way internet jokes irl sometimes make me cringe), and actually I think a story that focuses on the presence of being online in our lives is both necessary and an interesting idea. I mean, authors are inspired by current events after all, and what else could be the newest, strangest social event? I think this book is also the first one I’ve read which seems to be written by someone who actually understands internet culture, which is nice.
Similar to: On one hand, this kind of reminded me of Weather by Jenny Offill, which was a shortlister in last year’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. That book is also about current times in the US, i.e. it discusses climate change and Donald Trump and the internet. On the other hand, that similarity may just be because they’re both short books I listened to with a female, American narrator and thus have correlated together in my head. However, the structureless, flowy nature of this story also reminded me of Ali Smith’s How to be Both, which is a great book with great style.
What else has the author written? The author is a poet first (very evident in this book), and although this is her debut novel, she’s written a collection of poetry.