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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary
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...
Published on 12 April 2005 by Thomas Douglas

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Highlighting the Mundane
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...
Published 17 days ago by MotionlessArrival


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65 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, 12 April 2005
By 
Thomas Douglas "TD" (Marlow) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
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
This review is from: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable, 5 Dec 2009
By 
M. Hitchcock (Exeter) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable read, 29 Jun 2012
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
By 
Mr E Foggitt (DUNBAR, East Lothian United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If nobody speaks of remarkable things, 4 Jan 2006
This book is a beautiful tale of life on an everyday kind of street. Jon Mcgregor looks at the world in a completely new and different way, and makes even the smallest things important, poignant, and absolutely beautiful. The characters in his book are people that we all could know - the typical English kinds of people, and the events that happen could happen to any of us. Somebody needed to write this book, and Mcgregor has done it wonderfully. After all, as he says, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be remarkable?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Highlighting the Mundane, 6 Oct 2014
By 
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. Because if PG Tips taste fantastic, riding a mountain railway and talking to the people on a local train in Sri Lanka and being invited to tea, tastes even more ecstatic, once the knowledge of deep beauty is obtained. No need to bang on about it, like we didn't notice. Set your store again, but next time presume we know - and have an adventure, with elsewhere and events and people who see each other and have a life.

I may lift the book of the shelf and flick through it again, like re-consulting a good poem, but I'm not actually gonna sit down and read this book. If you don't know what a kettle is and appreciate it, then this book may be helpful to you but, elsewise, life's too short for the mundane.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable First Novel, 4 Nov 2007
By 
Herman Norford "Keen Reader" (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I read Jon McGregor's second novel, So Many Ways to Begin, first and I was so impressed by it that I had to read his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, as soon as I could. After reading If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, I was even more impressed with it than the second novel. Like So Many Ways to Begin, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things explores similar themes such as the lives of "ordinary People", the everyday simple events that marks human behaviour and the importance of memory in anchoring us in relation to who we are, where we came from and perhaps where we are going. However, it is McGregor's prose in If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things that sets it apart from the second novel.

McGregor's story is fairly straight forward. He present the events and actions of his characters across a period of one day. The events and actions take place on an anonymous street in an anonymous town or city. To tell his story McGrogor has two narrators one in the third person who sees events unfold in the present and the second in the first person who, 3 years on from the day in question, examines her current position in life and recall events of the day as a former resident of the street. All this might sound clever and highbrow but believe me it is straight forward and facinating. Indeed, one of the things that makes this novel refreshing and exciting is how the story is told rather than what it is about.

The prose in the opening pages of the novel, although not sustained through out the novel, is quite stunning. The rhythm of the phrases and sentences, and the onomatopoeia of the sentences renders a poetic prose of the highest order. Furthermore, in the opening passages, the narrative gives a sense of an opposite between sound and silence suggesting that McGregor is conducting a symphony orchestra.

It has been suggested that McGregor's style is cinematic; I certainly agree. To be specific, read page 4 of the novel and you might be left with the impression of a camera taking an overhead panning shot of a city with voice over describing the close of a day approaching midnight on the dawn of a new day.

But for his artistic achievement, McGregor's story could have easily drifted into tedium. Page after page is filled with short descriptive vignettes of the characters behaviour and action on the day in question. However, there are at least two things that lifts the story from tedium. The first is McGrego's vivid and lively figurative language. For example, "I can't remember, all I can remember is staring at the curtain of legs in the street trying to see through". Secondly, there is a subtle suspense and mystery underlying the story. As we read, we sense that something ominous is going to happen so we remain engaged and continue to turn the pages. At the end of the story, the effect of the revealed mystery is to jolt our intellect into reflecting upon the significance of the everyday mundane things that give shape to our lives. We suddenly realise that they are remarkable - thanks to McGregor for speaking of them.

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is wonderful novel in that the people are well observed. McGregor sheds light on every nook and cranny -nothing is left unturned. The result of this is that to some extent there is an uncanny feeling of following McGregor and peering into the lives of the people on the street. However, McGregor's skill and art saves his and our observations from one of merely peering into his characters lives because the behaviour and the action he conveys are those that I observe when I open my front door and walk down the street to work. McGregor brilliantly highlights how these everyday behaviours have significance for people.

This is an outstanding novel that I highly recommend.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, absorbing and cinematic, 4 July 2003
By 
Ms. K. E. Glaisher "Cooroo" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Just finished this and wanted to share my feelings. I feel as if I have been in a dream while I read it. The combination of detachment, people known only by physical characteristics or their house number, with intense involvement in the little details of people's lives makes for an extraordinary read.
The punctuation style was occasionally annoying, having to re-read speech to check exactly who said what. But overall the style worked, adding to the dreamlike quality. It reminded me a little of Ian McEwan's 'The Cement Garden' - that hot, late summer feeling, with tragedy like a thunderstorm building in the distance.
I enjoyed the anonymity of the characters - no one from the past had a name, until Shahid is named at the moment of crisis, and the man with the damaged hands calls and calls his name, trying to use its power to heal, or at least make the world notice. I wonder what the narrator (anonymous, like the 2nd Mrs de Winter) will call her twins?
Of course the novel has its flaws, but I found it unputdownable, much easier to read than reviews had led me to expect, and I think its little details will stay with me for a long while.
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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Speaking about Remarkable Things, 10 Dec 2003
By A Customer
This is a book to curl up with on a summer afternoon when you don't need to do anything and you can just enjoy reading.
Anyway I fell in love with it.
The form of the book is unusual: the characters don't have names (because too many of them know each other only by sight), and the proportion of description to event is much higher than in most novels (because this is a novel about a mostly ordinary day and mostly ordinary people). As the title says: it's a book about all the things that we don't notice because we don't think they're worth noticing because they're not exciting enough. Or about the lives which are ordinary, in which life-changing things happen, without fanfare.
Too often books are called poetic because they unload job-lots of flowery and sentimental adjectives and because the writer cares more about how he's writing than what he's writing about. This is genuinely really poetic because it uses language carefully so that you feel what it is like to be alive in this northern town; the quality of experience (the smell of a street after rain), the anonymous characters - who are each of them more real than hundreds of characters who are given names and stock personalities by their authors, the way the emotions of the characters shift and change. Its got an unusual style, but that's not because it's style and not content: the style is only there for the content.
It is a book for anyone who has ever thought how strange and beautiful the world is, who has ever fallen in love with someone who didn't seem to notice, who has ever been lonely and felt that they can't talk about the decisions they have to make, or who has found someone that they can talk to, who has ever realised with wonder that all those faces in the crowd are people with lives and emotions of their own...
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If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor (Hardcover - 5 Aug 2002)
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