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3.7 out of 5 stars
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 9 March 2012
Stunning.

McGregor's writing style is poetic; beautifully and meticulously structured. The story of a single day slowly unfolds through a series of little vignettes that slowly connect together, like projections on gauze. The narrative develops like a series of Polaroid snapshots, each slowly becoming clear to the reader, as you piece together the events of a seemingly unremarkable day. The multiple narration where the same event is seen through the filter of different eyes creates a series of repeating echoes with a cinematic sweep of motifs and images.

The tone is carefully measured throughout, and McGregor deliberately chooses to avoid inverted commas for speech marks. In fact he seems to have a bit of an aversion towards punctuation generally.

The structure interweaves the main first person unnamed narrator in the present (a girl facing her own personal crisis) back to the events of this specific Sunday. Each character is described rather than being given a name which creates a deliberate sense of detachment and anonymity, and forces the reader to really concentrate to remember who's who, which is quite a clever ploy.

Some reviewers have criticised the resultant sense of emotional detachment, but this seems to rather miss the point. I found the book completely mesmeric and entrancing. I am certain I'll be re-reading it again. As a piece of writing I think it's a truly remarkable achievement.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
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
on 10 December 2003
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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A great book excellently written. McGregor has an individual and unusual style with short paragraphs, making his prose almost poetic. I often dislike books of this kind, but something about this style just really appealed to me - I suppose it does come down to individual taste, but I'm surprised that other reviewers haven't rated it more highly.

The story alternates between a beautifully observed description of the lives of a number of people living on a street in an anonymous UK town on an ordinary summer day - ordinary, that is, until a tragedy occurs - and a first person narrative set several years later by one of the characters there that day, who revisits and gains a new insight into what occured.

Although only one momentous event occurs - and even this is momentous in a fairly small and personal way (I'm trying not to give too much away) - the story is never dull and this is down to McGregor's skill in making descripions of ordinary life (preparing breakfast, students packing up their rooms, someone trying to light a barbeque) fascinating by way of his writing. The story moves cleverly between characters, which sustains the pace. There is an impending sense of doom, as small, ordinary actions build up to the eventual conclusion, that is very compelling.

There are also many small mysteries and dramas related to the characters which kept me glued to the pages. How did the man with scarred hands get injured, who is the mysterious boy at number 18 and why is taking pictures of the street, what is the news the first person narrator afraid of telling her mother?

As the story unfolds, some questions are answered but much is left nicely unresolved. The ending is poignant and unexpected with a good twist, and has a message about the closed off existences most people live, not really noticing those around them. The fact that none of the characters (apart from one) are named adds to this sense of modern anonymity. I believed completely in all of the characters; from the old man afraid to tell his wife he is ill, to the students drifting as they try to decide what to do next, to the mother caring for her family.

It was utterly compelling and original, as well as being beautifully written. I can't really find anything to criticise. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 25 June 2007
'The city, it sings' it says on the first page of Jon McGregor's debut novel, and so does his prose. Mainly outlining the events of a day in the life of inhabitants of one northern street, there's no doubt about the craftmanship of this book. There's not much of a plot really, but who cares when it's this beautiful? And I don't need to know anyone's names when I can visualise them right in front of me virtue of fabulous description. Superb!

The only thing I had a problem with in this book was the second narrative, that of a young girl who'd lived on the street during the year after the main events. This part seemed contrived, put together to create a plot and some narrative tension when, in reality, I don't think it was needed. I think this book would have been better as a very short novel or a novella, focusing on the street and the one day. This was a gently paced and beautifully expressed story and it was enough.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 19 January 2007
This novel takes place in an ordinary city street, on an ordinary day, with its' inhabitants going about their ordinary business. The students are getting ready to move out, the children are playing cricket in the road. Just the comings and goings of ordinary people living their lives. However a terrible event occurs which shatters lives for ever.

The observations in this book are beautiful. The smallest detail of mundane life is recorded. A tapestry of every day events is intricately woven, until you feel that you are sitting in an attic viewing the scene from above. Running parallel to this, is the account of someone who witnessed events on that day and how their life has been affected by them. The writing is poetic and beautiful,the mundane becomes compelling and all the while there is the anticipation of a dreadful event looming.

An outstanding read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2012
To be honest, I did find the style unusual at first, but after the first couple of pages, I was immersed in the story. The noting of mundane events makes sense as you read more of the book, and maybe remember things mentioned in passing before...There are snapshots of life on the street, some funny, some poignant and some tragic, and if you think you can see what happens in the end... you can't. Read it and weep, the images in this book will stay with me for a while; beautiful and terrible, life is richer for having read this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon 8 April 2012
Like a panoramic painting this first novel by Jon McGregor can both captivate and confuse. There are many characters here and sometimes it is difficult to keep track of them all, but then as they reappear more frequently in the story they begin to take shape.

The story covers the events of a single day in a street somewhere in England, and the consequences of that day to the people who were there. The importance of the mundane, as well as the mundanity of tragedy, runs through the book. Numerous little details of lives lived, futures imagined, fears faced, and dreams dreamt roll across the pages.

It is hard to pin down who is who at times - but that is probably the point. Just as in real life we encounter so many people, all with a life story, and so often don't have the time or interest to ask, or to remember - here it is the overall impression which you take away with you, rather than the details which make it up.

Much more like staring at a huge painting, noticing things new to look at and trying to figure it all out, rather than reading a conventional novel. Brilliant writing, but not always easy reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 15 August 2013
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 against it - but I would highly recommend it as a thoroughly good read. I was captivated from the start. I read it over 3 days and resented having to put it down and resume normal life. Other readers have complained that there are too many characters and we don't know their names but, I would argue that we find out so much about all their lives at a snapshot in time - it's like being able to look right into the houses of a whole street and understand the inhabitants and what is important to them, and why, at that particular time. The alternate chapters - dealing with the 'then' and 'now' add to the drama and tension and make you want to keep reading. The writing is exquisite - some have suggested it's like poetry. I'm not a big fan of poetry but I loved this and will definitely be reading Jon McGregor's next book. He describes the ordinary things in life in a quite remarkable way.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2007
I missed this when it came out but am so pleased to have caught up with it now. It's absolutely gripping and with a different style, that's not so different that it turns the reader off i.e as being pretentious.

To me it felt like the Hitchcock film Rear Window in which the camera panned into people's flats and their everyday life. It's very visual.

Something quite serious happens one day in a northern industrial town and we're not quite sure what. We might suspect but we're not sure. The focus shifts from one house to another in the street of old houses and we're let into fragments of people's lives - students in bedsits, an elderly married couple, an Indian family etc. A consistent thread is a young woman whose story we gradually come to know through her own words.

It all unravels in remarkable style - no speech marks for punctuation, that would slow things down, but doesn't make it difficult to read. In seemingly ordinariness much can be 'remarkable'. We find out at the end if our mental picture of the 'event' turns out to be right
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