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The rise of the internet novel

Patricia Lockwood and Lauren Oyler’s new novels grapple with the pathologies and pleasures of the internet—and remind us of the profound importance of life away from the screen

By Imogen West-Knights   March 2021

During repeated lockdowns, the phrase “the internet is taking over our lives” feels less like a metaphor and more like a statement of fact. Even before the pandemic, though, the proportion of time we spent on the internet was on a steady incline. And the distinction between real life and life online was already getting vague—increasingly, it’s all just life.

For a long time, novelists depicted the internet only in passing, or avoided it altogether. Maybe it felt too frivolous to render artistically, like doing an oil painting of a PlayStation. Or else it was too difficult to write about in a way that wouldn’t date horribly. Websites go offline, social media companies rise and fall, even the words we use for the internet go out of style at a perilous rate. The New English Library Book of Internet Stories, released in 2000, features such dorky outdated titles…

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