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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things [Paperback]

Jon McGregor
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
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Book Description

5 May 2003
'This novel owes as much to poetry as it does to prose. Its opening, an invocation of the life of the city, is strongly reminiscent of Auden's Night Mail in its hypnotic portrait of industrialised society...An assured debut' Erica Wagner, The Times. On a street in a town in the North of England, ordinary people are going through the motions of their everyday existence - street cricket, barbecues, painting windows...A young man is in love with a neighbour who does not even know his name. An old couple make their way up to the nearby bus stop. But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening. That this remarkable and horrific event is only poignant to those who saw it, not even meriting a mention on the local news, means that those who witness it will be altered for ever. Jon McGregor's first novel brilliantly evokes the histories and lives of the people in the street to build up an unforgettable human panorama. Breathtakingly original, humane and moving, IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS is an astonishing debut. 'The work of a burning new talent ...Jon MacGregor writes like a lyrical angel' Daily Mail

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; New edition edition (5 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747561575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747561576
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (145 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 19,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jon McGregor is the author of the critically acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and So Many Ways to Begin. He is the winner of the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and has been twice longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He was born in Bermuda in 1976. He grew up in Norfolk and now lives in Nottingham. Even the Dogs is his third novel.

(Photo credit: Neil Bennet)

Product Description


"McGregor's publishers must be openly rejoicing …'If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things’ is the work of a burning new talent." -- Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail, 24th August 2002

"Mcgregor is an exemplary archivist of the humdrum ... written by someone who detects so passionately the remarkable in the everyday." -- The Spectator, 18th January 2003

"You won't read anything much more poignant than this." -- Daily Telegraph 17th September 2002

"moving vision of contemporary Britain, a remarkably accomplished first novel, Booker-longlisted." -- Sunday Times 22nd September 2002

From the Author

I was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, went to university in Bradford, lived in Sheffield for a year after university and now live in Nottingham with my wife Alice. I began writing at university and had a collection of short stories - "Cinema One" Hundred - published within an anthology called "Five Easy Pieces" by Pulp Faction in April 1998. I also had a short story, "While You Were Sleeping" broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in June 1999. I then got a literary agent who said that I should write a novel and "If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things" was written largely over the last two years on a narrowboat in Nottingham. This year Granta Magazine has published another of my short stories in their June issue and You Magazine (Mail on Sunday) have commissioned another short story which I'm working on now as well as writing my second novel.

In the summer of 1997, a boy was shot in Bolton, round about the same time that Diana died. This got me thinking about the significance that gets attached to people's lives and deaths, about perceived levels of tragedy and newsworthiness. I was interested in the anonymity of city life, the fact that I still didn't know my neighbours after three years, the damage that transience does to the community. And a few almost-terrible incidents in the street I was living in at the time gave me the magic What If that fiction always requires.

However, it took me a long time to develop that into anything useful or compelling - there were a lot of false starts and cul-de-sacs. In particular I was using the hook, for a long time, of setting it on the day of Diana's death and making the stories revolve around that. It took me a long time to drop that idea, but it needed dropping; it was too melodramatic and artificial, and it detracted from the characters and stories of the people on the street. I've left in a faint reference to that whole concept though; the story is still set on that day, but without any mention of it beyond a reference to the date - a counterclaim for the importance of other people's lives.

The character of the narrator - and therefore the hook and drive of the novel as a coherent whole - didn't come until May 2000, when I went to Japan to visit a friend and he showed me the Buddhist temple at Kamakura, where they have a shrine for mothers of stillborn/aborted children. This sparked off a chain of thought about what a responsibility and a fear pregnancy must be, which gradually rolled into a storyline able to tie together what was happening in the street. So in a sense I only really started writing the novel then, but I was pulling in a lot of material written previously to that and as a result finished an initial version in March 2001.

So that's the mechanics of it. A list of things I was thinking about whilst writing it would include; ideas of connection and misconnection, the prominence of celebrity, the importance of unwitnessed lives, an assertion that the job of a writer is to bear witness to that which would otherwise go unnoticed, the namelessness/anonymity of contemporary city life, the nature and/or existence of miracle, the avoidance of overt interpersonal communication, and tea.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary 12 April 2005
A delightful book that is vividly descriptive and subtly gripping.
We are shown a single street in a northern town. The narrative records the actions of the people, almost of of them unnamed, and is like a documentary camera - observing but not judging, letting actions and words be their own story.
"In his kitchen, the old man measures out the tea-leaves, drops then into the pot, fills it with boiling water. He sets out a tray, two cups, two saucers, a small jug of milk, a small pot of sugar, two teaspoons. He breathes heavily as his hands struggle up to the high cupboards, fluttering like the wings of a caged bird"
The roving camera sees the same events from different angles - the boys playing with water pistols seen from their angle, that of their victim and that of a neighbour at a window. This binds the characters together - a common thread shared by overlapping lives. Imperfect lives - there is pain here; broken hearts, broken bodies, loss and dispair. The imperfect lives of ordinary people on a single ordinary day.
Alternating with this we have a first person narrative. A girl in her early twenties, who we come to discover was a resident of the street, facing her own personal crisis. And suddenly the reader's perspective shifts - the street becomes the past, becomes a story.
The threads are similar in their melancholic narrative. McGregor has a lightness of touch which conveys great emotional. He exposes souls with his words.
As the two threads develop, the overlap becomes greater, the story more compelling, the outcome more emotional, and the reader becomes a helpless observer in a stunning denouement
To say more would be to spoil a extraordinary book.
5 stars.
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars worth the effort! 5 Dec 2002
By A Customer
I understand some of the frustrations some readers have experienced in reading this book....but I liked it very much. I agree that the lack of development of character and the lack of involvement we can sometimes feel for his characters, means that at times we can feel too removed from what is happening to really care. BUT maybe this IS the point.
For me the positives far outweighed these negatives. McGregor provides us with incredibly vivid snapshots of what happens on this street on this particular day. Rarely have I come across a writer who can describe a scene in such detail without being tedious. These snapshots are enhanced by the fact that many of them are presented from different angles within minutes of each other. You are filled with the sense of being in the street, BUT only as an observer, which at times is fascinating.
Although, characterisation is not central to the book, there are some extremely moving pieces of characterisation which ARE developed; in particular the relationship between the elderly couple and the relationship between the father and the young girl.
Not everyone will have the patience to read this novel and not everyone will enjoy it. But in my opinion, it's well worth the risk. I'm looking forward to his next one.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable read 29 Jun 2012
Format:Kindle Edition
This isn't a book that follows a simple plot with a beginning, middle and end. Instead, it tells several stories with a common link and the narrative is very well put together. I loved the language, observation and the sheer style of this beautiful book - I highly recommend it.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable thing for a start... 1 Mar 2004
John McGregor's debut novel is a finely-observed and acutely moving story set in an unremarkable northern town. The book's tension is centred in "the incident" - an awful and heart-wrenching event which touches the minutely-observed lives of a dozen or so characters living close to the scene, a faily anonymous suburban street. And we are kept in the dark about the precise nature of this incident until the very end.
McGregor's mastery of time-shift enables him to start with a brief introduction to the end-piece, and then shift backwards, moving forward in small steps to show us how each of the characters came to be involved.
But the technical aspects do not do justice to what is a very moving book. I found myself thinking about the characters and their likely future lives for weeks after I had finished reading. McGregor's insight into character, relationships and family dynamics make this a wonderful, life-affirming and gripping novel.
I am not one to sit for hours ensconced in the pages of books, but this poetic and finely-crafted story did it for me.
I will be pre-ordering his 2nd novel!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things 12 Sep 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
To borrow a word from the title this is a remarkable novel by Jon McGregor. In it he details the everyday concerns of everyday people who share the same street and allows the reader to see the world through their eyes. JMcG possesses a rare gift in his use of words and the text here is a prose that flows here and there, swoops and dips, cuts left and right. The reader is irresistibly drawn into the lives of the characters and the difficulties they face and the choices they make as they cope, some more successfully than others, with life and all that it offers. The conclusion is heart breaking but full of humanity.

If you enjoy language and here it is beautifully poetic at times, then this is for you. Look out. especially, for an inventive use of the simile.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Wish I could get my money back
I had heard a lot about this book and downloaded it on my kindle. Its been a while and I am unable to go past the first couple of pages, I found it quite dull and unengaging. Read more
Published 1 month ago by ksid
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing read
I loved this book for its simplicity and originality. A good, gentle, holiday read with a twist to the end
Published 2 months ago by Fiona
4.0 out of 5 stars "Then it was over, and it was so sudden that I felt as though a camera...
With a structure all of its own, this novel has two interwoven story lines. The first is a few years ago: an ordinary street on an ordinary day - kids play, students pack up to go... Read more
Published 5 months ago by sally tarbox
5.0 out of 5 stars An emotionally charged experience
This book is must to read. A brilliant insight into the life of others. A great understanding of humanity and the emotions of the human mind. Read more
Published 6 months ago by link
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly wonderful
This is simply a wonderful book. A modern classic, beautifully written in a very poetic prose. A must-read for English language lovers.
Published 6 months ago by C
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh.
I started, I stopped, I chastised myself for ignoring it. I'm sure it's a great book, i really am. In fact, when I was reading the reviews before purchasing I couldn't believe the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Roxie
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally engrossing
As a 2 Oxfam find, I didn't have high expectations of this debut novel but it absolutely gripped me from start to finish and I've read it through this afternoon and evening with... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Steph B
1.0 out of 5 stars emperor's new clothes
I couldn't engage with this one at all. I read the opening pages with frustration, then dipped in throughout before speed-reading the last chapter to find out what the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Bobbie
5.0 out of 5 stars Really incredible, unusual writing!
I've never read anything written in such an unusual way. Still thinking about this book. It's not the most exciting or the most action packed but the exquisite poetic writing keeps... Read more
Published 11 months ago by SKM99
5.0 out of 5 stars Quite remarkable
This book was simply beautiful and the best book I've read in quite a while. It is v different and a little quirky in style - this may explain some people's violent reaction... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Nellie Dean
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