Experimental Novel Reviews

We are the hashtag gen: Percy Bharucha reviews ‘No One Is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood

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Somewhere in No One Is Talking About This, Patricia Lockwood says, “...when a dog runs to you and nudges against your hand for love and you say automatically, I know, I know, what else are you talking about except the world?” We are all dogs reaching out to the outstretched hand that is this incredible book.

The first novel by the American poet and essayist is a whirlwind tour of her pain, madness, and insight gained. Reading it, one can only marvel, nod along, and say, “I know, I know.”

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Rabbit hole

The novel’s nameless protagonist is a writer feted for her viral tweets who now travels the world delivering talks. The first part reads like an extended Twitterfeed composed of jokes, musings, stories, notes, reflections, punctuated with commentary. It’s a stumble into the rabbit hole of a whole gamut of concerns — relationships, clothes, history, mothers using eggplant emojis wrong, and more. The prose is fragmented, outrageous, polarising, incisive, and designed to go viral.

Pondering and mimicking the never-ending barrage of social media feeds, Lockwood’s protagonist asks, “Why were we all writing like this now? Because a new kind of connection had to be made, and blink, synapse, little space-between was the only way to make it. Or because, and this was more frightening, it was the way the portal wrote.” The “portal” is the protagonist’s name for the Internet, a melting pot where, once upon a time, you went to be yourself, and which is now turning each of us into a homogenised version of one another.

Lockwood divides the collective online mind into two hemispheres — one which has never been to college and the other a product of privileged institutions, which can only be described as a “bubble”. Each faction remains convinced that they alone know the truth.

We are the hashtag gen: Percy Bharucha reviews ‘No One Is Talking About This’ by Patricia Lockwood

Disarmingly honest

The second part is decidedly offline, as the writer is jolted back to reality when her pregnant sister’s unborn child is diagnosed in utero with Proteus Syndrome, a rare one-in-a-billion disorder that causes an overgrowth of skin and bone. Lockwood chronicles in moving detail the struggle of raising a child who, in all probability, will die soon. Following that is a disarmingly honest, unabashed series of musings on family, love, relationships, and being a modern woman. While discussing the last topic, she traces how women have progressed from foot binding, teeth polishing to rubbing snail mucus on their face — all for the sake of beauty, acceptability. Women today freely chose their fetters — “paints, polishes, and waist trainers” — while pitying women of the past.

Lockwood flits effortlessly between the hilarious, sleazy, graceful, and radiant. There is such a strong clarity in her prose that her words cut deep. While the first half seems cynical and distant, the second is pure, tender emotion. It is as if the Coen brothers decided to make a rom-com. The title of the book is a revelation and once it explodes, one realises that the book could be called nothing else.

In a single novel, Lockwood goes from observing our world as a pale blue dot from the moon to zooming in into the workings of a particular family. Like a magician, she ties up contraries — the macro and the micro, cynicism and hope, the tragic and the ludicrous — making the novel a beautiful, brilliant read.

The reviewer is a freelance writer and illustrator.

No One is Talking About This; Patricia Lockwood; Bloomsbury Publishing; ₹599

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