Review: No One is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood


Rating: 5/5

Who might like this?  Those looking for poetic, stream-of-consciousness fiction that starts as one thing then morphs into something entirely unexpected and beautiful.


I’m not sure that I’ve read a book like No One is Talking About This.  I had the notion it was about the Internet, but that’s it.  In fact, I had two books to choose from for my next read on my nightstand.  I picked up the first, an oft favourably reviewed novel from 2021, read the first chapter, and it didn’t grab me.  I put it down, picked up No One is Talking About This, and from the first two pages, it had me.  I was thinking: “What?” and “Oh wow!” and “What’s going on here?”


To summarize the plot, an unnamed narrator is on a world-wide speaking tour because she’s made it big in Internet circles by posting pithy, humorous memes.  She seems absorbed by her digital life (“the portal”), only feeling real when engaging there.  It’s witty, and frighteningly relevant, and firmly situated in our time.  It all seems so prescient.  Lockwood presents the story in short snippets of prose loosely divided into chapters.  At some point, the narrator gets a call from her mother with difficult news, and things change entirely. 


That’s all I can say without spoilers.  I think for this one, the less said the better.


This is a book that you have to read differently than most. It feels like reading a prose poem, and you need to dive in, immerse yourself and let go.  For the first half of the book, I used my stickies to tab so many passages that I wanted to re-read, slowly realizing that the entire book seemed deeply meaningful.  I was pausing to write profound thoughts in my notebook, as if reading it was making me smarter.  Here’s one of my smart insights:


I noted how the book’s structure mimicked the voices, continuous bullets of information, and randomness of being online as short, choppy, gratifying, and sometimes nonsensical packets of prose.  Presented as a stream of information it coalesced into a whole that took shape and made sense.  The book subverted form for its own and reclaimed meaning. 


I’m not actually sure if that makes any sense, but it did at the time.  And if the whole novel carried on that way, it would be enough. 


But the thing is, the first half is only the set up.  The second half of the novel is a wonderful, beautiful, timeless gut punch.  It is a lens that focuses everything.  When that lens focused, all my smartness and those deep comments I wrote to myself in my notebook were still meaningful, but so much less important than I thought.  And that’s the novel using form again to humble and move me. 


Smart and beautiful, truly.  It’s a rare thing for me, but I feel a bit changed by this reading experience, for the better.  In No One is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood hands us a gift, and I hope you get a chance to read it. 




Possible mild spoiler follows:


I love a good reading coincidence.  Here is an intersection of my current reading:  No One is Talking About This crossing paths with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. 


Yesterday, I read Canto 28 of Dante’s Purgatorio.  He is on the terrestrial paradise, on the top of Mount Purgatory, and describes the beautiful scenery, trees with dense green foliage that bends gently in the wind but does not stop the birds from singing:


Keen now to look within and round about the

wood diving, whose foliage dense and green

was tempering for mine eyes the new day’s

light, waiting no longer there, I left the edge,

and entered very slowly on the plain, across a

soil which everywhere breathed fragrance.  A

pleasant breeze, unvaried in itself, smote me

upon the forehead and with a stroke no greater

than a gently blowing wind; whereby the

branches trembling readily were all of them in

that direction swaying, where first the holy

Mount its shadow casts; yet ne’er deflecting from

their upright state so much, that on their

tops the little birds should give up practicing

their every art, but singing with full gladness,

they received the earliest breezes ‘mong the

leaves, which sang in undertone a burden to

their songs, like that which gathers strength

from bough to bough…


He stands at the side of a stream called Lethe that erases all memory of sin, and a woman he meets there tells him:


The water thou beholdest wells not up

from fountains fed by mists condensed by

cold, as doth a stream which gains and loses

breath; but issues from a sure and constant

fount, which by the will of God regains as

much as, open on both sides, it poureth forth.

On this side with a virtue it descends which

takes from men all memory of sin…


On the same day, in No One is Talking About This, I read about the narrator’s sister and her ill child:


“Movement was now completely impossible-they could no longer even take the baby in the car.  Her sister’s freedom had been snatched from her, neat and complete.  She did not sleep or shower.  Her heartbeat was the beep of the monitors.  She was tied to the baby, who nevertheless had turned out to be the leafiest shade on earth, towering high above her and almost to the heavens, stirring with little birds.


To watch her sister was not like watching a saint; it was like watching the clear flowing stream the saint was filled with, water that talked, laughed, carried, lifted, and never once uttered an impatient sound.  “How?” she asked her sister once, and her sister stared at her like water and said, “Perfect happiness.” “


I am left to wonder if Lockwood had read Dante’s Canto 28 at some point.  It is such a beautiful parallel. 




Favourite Quotes:


For as long as she read the news, line by line and minute by minute, she had some say in what happened, didn’t she?  She had to have some say in what happened, even if it was only WHAT?


Even if it was only HEY!



Previously these communities were imposed on us, along with their mental weather.  Now we chose them-or believed that we did.  A person might join a site to look at pictures of her nephew and five years later believe in a flat earth.


Every day a new name bloomed out, and it was always a man who had been killed.  Except when it was a twelve-year-old boy, or a grandmother, or a toddler in a playpen or a woman from Australia, or…And often the fluid moment of the killing rippled in the portal, playing and replaying as if at some point it might change. 


When something of hers sparked and spread in the portal, it blazed away the morning and afternoon, it blazed like the new California, which we had come to accept as being always on fire.  She ran back and forth in the flames, not eating or drinking…After a while her husband might burst through that wall of swimming red to rescue her, but she would twist away and kick him in the nuts, screaming, “My whole life is in there!” as the day she was standing on broke away and fell into the sea. 


It was tiring to have to catch each new virus, produce the perfect sneeze of it, and then mutate it into something new.


What did we have a right to expect from this life?  What were the terms of the contract?  What had the politician promised us?  The realtor, walking us through being’s beautiful house?  Could we sue?  We would sue!  Could we blow it all open?  We would blow it open!  Could we…could we post about it?