Book Review: No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood

This is a story about a life lived in two halves.

It’s about what happens when real life collides with the world accessed through a screen.

It’s about where we go when existential threats loom and high-stakes reality claims us back.

It’s about living in world that contains both an abundance of proof that there is goodness, empathy, and justice in the universe, and a deluge of evidence to the contrary.

Irreverent and sincere, poignant and delightfully profane, No One Is Talking About This is a meditation on love, language and human connection from one of the most original voices of our time.

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.

This is not a synopsis that gives much away in this… peculiar and oddly moving novel. If novel is quite the right word. Lockwood’s prose is terse. It is lyrical. It is powerfully moving.

The novel revolves around a woman – was she ever named? – who seems to have become an online media sensation on The Portal following a post “that said simply, Can a dog be twins? That was it. Can a dog be twins?”

In the first part of the novel, a bewildering fractured narrative has her speaking on stage across the world in Australia and Jamaica, about the internet, returning home to her husband, living life in the Portal through memes, posts, pieces and comments and likes, visiting family. It is written in short segments, disjointed but there is a resonance between each one. And they are often funny – genuinely funny – such as

Our mothers could not stop using horny emojis. They used the winking one with its tongue out on our birthdays, they sent us long rows of the spurting three droplets when it rained. We had told them a thousand times, but they never listened—as long as they lived and loved us, as long as they had split themselves open to have us, they would send us the peach in peach season.

NEVER SEND ME THE EGGPLANT AGAIN, MOM! she texted. I DON’T CARE WHAT YOU’RE COOKING FOR DINNER

They are also poignant and touching and terribly on point with contemporary issues over womanhood, climate change, politics and legislation… often delivered in terse pithy oneliners with the punch of a tweet: the President (surely, Trump) is reimagined as the dictator and

“The problem was that the dictator was very funny, which had maybe always been true of all dictators.”

and

“Lol, her little sister texted. Think if your body changes 1-2 degrees . . . it’s called a fever and you can die if you have one for a week. Think if the ocean has a fever for years . . . lol”

This was all very well, all very smart and clever…. but there is a limit that I have for this sort of cleverness before it becomes, well, tedious. And Lockwood was approaching it quickly when the story flipped into a very different Part Two. Lockwood’s characterisation came to the fore as her narrator’s sister’s pregnancy progressed and it became apparent that the baby was not developing ‘normally’, whatever that means: she did not practise breathing inside the womb and ultrasounds picked out

the head that was measuring ten weeks ahead of the rest of the body, the asymmetry in arms and legs, the eyes that would not close

The novel raises huge questions at this point about the treatment of, control over, the female body, the abhorrence at the legislation that controlled her sister’s body and took from her the option of termination or even of inducing of labour. The baby is born with Proteus Syndrome – and, with the baby, the novel bursts with a real tenderness of love and language and joy. Despite the tragic prognosis, the child is a gift and Lockwood does a fantastic job in capturing and relaying that wonder and amazement of the child, alongside the anxiety and exhaustion that goes with parenting any child.

Lockwood does touch powerfully on the language of genetics and of disability, of clinical terminology, of popular cultural stereotypes of disability when she says

The exome test had found the misspelling, the one missed letter in a very long book. The family sat at the conference table as the entire dictionary was shot at them through pea-guns. The words the doctors said were Proteus syndrome, the words they said were one in a billion, the words they meant were Elephant Man. She thought of the bare Victorian rooms with clocks ticking in the background, of the splendid dignity and dialogue and makeup of the movie—which must have understood something, but no, did not understand this. Of the words on the poster: I—AM—A—MAN!

It is not an easy journey to follow in this second part – a trajectory that probably might have benefitted from a trigger warning for many: the prognosis for the baby is terminal and this is not a novel that offers any miraculous escape from it. Ultimately, the joy and the connection that the baby brings – the spark, the life, the light that she brings – was our consolation and our respite and this novel ended up being incredibly life affirming and warm novel.

And yet there is a part of me that wonders whether the novel touches on so much that it doesn’t ever quite fully grasp anything – which is perhaps entirely deliberate as a reflection on our own reliance on ephemeral and superficial online living….

What I Liked

  • The playfulness of the language in the first part, sliding from dry humour to silliness to existential dread.
  • The insightfulness of the observations made about society and politics and, especially, womanhood. This was never preachy, it never felt proselytising – but humane, honest and unflinching.
  • The baby – she was wonderful and gorgeous!
  • The positive representation of the disabled – it was defiant, celebratory and

“I just don’t want people to be scared of her,” her sister had said when they first received the diagnosis, but now that the baby was here the whole family had turned to a huge blue defiant stare that moved as a part through the waves, with the fear of the world curling tall on either side of them. They wanted—what?—to take the sun by the face and force it down: Look at her! Look! Shine on her! Shine! Shine!

What Could Have Been Different

  • Was the first section perhaps a little too disjointed, too different, too long, too “clever” for its own good?

Overall:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Page Count:

224 pages

Publisher:

Bloomsbury Circus

Date:

16th February 2021

Available:

Amazon, Publisher

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