The key criteria for this dubious descriptor seems to be including transcripts of texts, direct messages, or Whatsapp. Sally Rooney is often saddled with this.
But her themes are of difficult relationships and personal growth, not the internet; like phone calls and letters of novels past, digital snippets accurately depict young people in a modern world, but are tools, not foreground features.
Nobody is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood, which has been longlisted for the Booker Prize, truly is an internet novel.
Specifically, it is a novel about how the flippant, comedic language of social media – ‘the portal’ – dominates the mind of its protagonist. “Why am I like this?” she wonders, well aware she thinks in memes.
This is not a novel in which the internet merely exists; this is a novel about living a ‘Very Online’ existence, viewing all reality through the internet’s particular tone and cadence.
Our protagonist is a woman who has gone viral for irreverent tweets – ‘Can a dog be twins?’ – much like Lockwood herself. (“I’m reading a great book by that woman who did the ‘jail for mother for 1,000 years’ tweet’’, I messaged a friend.)
The book takes a sharp turn from bemoaning daily life when she becomes aunt to a baby with Proteus syndrome and a short life expectancy.
Suddenly, everything is filtered through perspective-altering tragedy and miracle instead, and the meme-ified thinking strains inadequately to meet the situation. By now the baked-in emotional detachment of this mode of communication, coming at everything from a surreal slant, finding comfort in repetition and riffing off how fatiguing, bad, and impossible the world can feel, is obvious.
In how it has so clearly captured the influence of meme culture on the brain, this book is insightful, witty, and genuinely unlike any other.
But will readers not from the statistically niche lingual subculture it references get much from it? I’m genuinely curious. Still, my own brainworms loved it. I hope to see it on the Booker shortlist.