Happy June everyone! Seriously though, how are we already in June? Time is flying by like never before. Since work has started, I am operating on a bit of a delay with my reviews but I’ve got some good ones coming up. Something I did want to do is tackle all the shortlisted novels for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, so this review is a part of that series! Today’s shortlist novel is No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood.
As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. She is overwhelmed by navigating the new language and etiquette of what she terms “the portal,” where she grapples with an unshakable conviction that a vast chorus of voices is now dictating her thoughts. When existential threats–from climate change and economic precariousness to the rise of an unnamed dictator and an epidemic of loneliness–begin to loom, she posts her way deeper into the portal’s void. An avalanche of images, details, and references accumulate to form a landscape that is post-sense, post-irony, post-everything. “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 increasingly absurd antics 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.
Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.
Overall rating: 3/5
Genre: This book is fairly genre-bending; contemporary, sci-fi, dystopian all apply
Read if you loved: Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Content warnings: Mention of rapist, police brutality, abortion, death of a child
Wowowow okay, I don’t know if I should even be reviewing this book because I’m still not entirely sure what happened in it. However, while this book was not necessarily to my taste in terms of the writing style, it was very interesting and thought-provoking so naturally I needed a place to discuss. Here goes nothing!
No One is Talking About This took me by surprise. As you’ll see in the synopsis, it is described as genre-defying, but I don’t think that’s a sufficient term. It also defies traditional prose – this novel is neither character-driven nor plot-driven (although I would choose the former if forced to pick one) – but rather a series of fleeting windows into an omniscient narrator’s stream of consciousness. It is incredibly abstract, which is something that often loses me. I’m all for pushing the envelope with writing but I do believe that some level of clarity is necessary, otherwise, the book just seems like…dare I say it…it’s trying too hard? Or maybe I’m too dumb for it! Regardless, this book required a lot of attention given the way the story is told. I never quite understood what was happening, at least in the first half, and had to fill in a lot of the blanks in the world-building and plot myself.
Speaking of the first half of this book, No One is Talking About This also reads as two entirely different stories. The first part focuses on the main character’s experiences with the portal. It reads as an attempt to capture the pulse of public consciousness, and Lockwood does a good job of highlighting the subsequent cultural hegemony that arises as a function of social media. I did enjoy these themes and there were several passages that I highlighted as they struck a chord. As Lockwood writes:
“But what about the stream-of-a-consciousness that is not entirely your own? One that you participate in, but that also acts upon you?”
I mean…if that isn’t a reflection of the co-dependent and continually evolving relationship between humans and social media, I don’t know what is.
That being said, there were also parts in which I was severely confused and craving just a little more structure. The second half takes a sharp turn and this is when we start to get some semblance of a storyline. I understand what Lockwood was trying to do here in drawing such a stark contrast between MC’s experience within the portal and then in real life, but it was almost too jarring. It didn’t quite flow in my opinion, and left me feeling a little unfulfilled.
This book holds plenty of surprises that were otherwise blended together very effectively. It contains unmistakable references to our current society, but amplifies certain elements to an extreme, creating a very eerie tone. It is also politically charged so if that is something you would prefer to leave out of your reading, this book might not be for you. However, if you are intrigued, it is extremely short, interesting, and has its fair share of profound moments. These types of writing endeavors are something I will always appreciate, so three stars for being bold, but this one just didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Can’t love every book, but eager to hear your thoughts as always! Have you read No One is Talking About This?
Reviews of books shortlisted for the 2021 Women’s Prize For Fiction