In episode 7, we delve into the extraordinary literary mind of the American poet, memoirist and novelist Patricia Lockwood, and discuss her latest book, No One Is Talking About This
The 39-year-old is often described as 'the poet laureate of Twitter' after making a name for herself with her whip-smart, weird and often provocative tweets. She and our NZ counterpart, the equally sassy and smart poet Hera Lindsay Bird, struck up a friendship in the Twitterverse. They then met on stage as part of the 2018 NZ Festival’s writers programme, in conversation with Charlotte Graham-Mclay. You can, by the way, find a fabulous comic account of this kōrero by Aotearoa cartoonist Tara Black on her website
This festival appearance sort of makes its way into No One Is Talking About This
, which was shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. It is also one of the New York Times’ 10 best books of 2021.
Lockwood herself describes it as ‘a novel about being very inside the internet and then being very outside of it’.No One Is Talking About This
is a novel, but if you were at the NZ Festival session in 2018, you will recognise some of the scenes in the book, which kicks off with Lockwood’s unnamed protagonist finding infamy on 'the portal' (her name for the internet) then embarking on a world tour that includes a number of book festival appearances. She grapples with the omniscience of social media in our lives and what it means for her identity. (Of course, the internet is also omnipresent in many of our lives, but I really mean omniscient here, for reasons that become apparent when you read the book.)
The second part of the book is quite different. It suddenly and dramatically shifts into another realm, after the narrator’s sister gets pregnant and then shit gets real, understandably leaving Lockwood’s protagonist little time to concern herself with anything else.
Lockwood acknowledges that her novel is based on her own niece Lena's heartbreaking short life — Lena was the first person ever to be diagnosed in utero with Proteus Syndrome, a one-in-a-billion disorder whose most famous sufferer was the Elephant Man.
Lockwood’s love for her niece, and the character in her novel she inspired, oozes from the pages.
In her acknowledgements, Lockwood encourages readers to find out more about Proteus Syndrome and consider donating. She also suggests readers donate to Pets for Patients, an organisation that matches pets with the families of chronically and terminally ill children.No One Is Talking About This
is called a novel, but like all of Lockwood’s writing, it really defies such a straightforward description. (Have you noticed I'm having difficulty thinking of it as a novel?) It’s part auto-fiction, part prose poetry, and her use of language is, as always, utterly mind-blowing.