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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things Paperback – 5 May 2003

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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 1.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (155 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 62,008 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

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By M. Hitchcock on 5 Dec. 2009
Format: Paperback
One of the best books I've ever read and one of the few I will definitely re-read.
I fell in love from the very first page. The opening is beautifully poetic and although nothing really happened I was hooked and hoping that nothing continued to happen so that I could enjoy the prose.
Things did begin to happen, although they were every-day, mundane, unremarkable things made interesting by the writing.
The "chapters" alternate between the detailed, wonderful description of a typical late Summers day in a Northern street and it's residents, and a woman who used to live in that street dealing with some unwanted news years later as well as memories of a terrible event that occurred on the Summers day.

My favourite thing about the book is how it's written, but the story is one of the most moving I've read despite being one that is not particularly important or remarkable.
I had a tear in my eye as the terrible event occurred in the last few pages and felt for characters that I barely even knew.
But as I said, I'm not going to re-read this because of the story, I'm going to re-read it for the descriptions of things I never thought to notice. And because it's written unlike any novel I've read before.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By MotionlessArrival on 6 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback
The everyday is remarkable, sacred and profound. John McGregor revives the mundane by infusing it with beauty and awe.

Just making a cup of tea and looking out the window at the street is riven with beauteous sanctity and god walks in the breath of the world.

But I gave up on it by page 91.

It's a bit like repeatedly taking LSD, everything is illuminated the first few times, but then it just looks normal again and the kick is no longer there, the re-ignition of the world fades. Nothing actually happens in this book, there's no narrative or character development; it's just doing those mundane and everyday things, like boiling a kettle and having a shave, again and again. Once you've got the sanctity of this, you've got it. Perhaps the author has no other experience to write about. Reading this book became like reading a great short poem. But when it's exactly the same poem about a kettle on each page... well, I began to feel a little short changed, no matter how hallowed the kettle. This is just the same trick repeated over and over. But that's one page, not 270.

I skipped ahead to see if anything further happened, narrative, character or content wise, but I couldn't find any page on which there was much different. Supposedly, from the beginning, something is going to happen, maybe death, I don't know - and this anticipation is supposed to keep us awake in the meantime - but this is a deliberate, creative writing trick which, in its cheapness, made me feel a little patronised and wonder why, in waiting, I was just reading the same old thing again and again. Life being short, I like to leave Bradford and get something more varied for my sacred illuminations.
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67 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Tom Douglas TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 12 April 2005
Format: Paperback
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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47 of 52 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Dec. 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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