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3.7 out of 5 stars171
3.7 out of 5 stars
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2009
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
on 13 December 2014
A stunning opening chapter is somehow completely different from the remainder of the book, which is equally amazing. We flip flop by chapter between two different stories of people whose lives are both connected and unconnected depending on how you see it. The flip flop nature means suspense and intensity builds through a chapter, and then there's a fresh change back to the other story that you'd forgotten about, and then vice-versa, etc. My enduring memory of this book, which I read years ago, is feeling so head-to-toe like I'm inside the book. The words seemed to have this kind of texture to them. I wasn't processing words in my head, I was living in the story, hearing the minute sounds from the licking of lips to subtle creaking of furniture; the rain against the window. If someone walked past the window I would feel the warmth of the sun on my back; if they wrapped their hands around a mug of tea, my hands felt warm. Everything was so real.

People didn't have names, but they had identity (I usually read fiction and just lose track of Andy Helen Dave and Petula - because I don't care about them!). The writing didn't have structure, but it was clear. Speech wasn't in quotes but I heard people's voices.

And that bit with the old couple in the road when it's raining - even now it brings a tear to my eye!

To me this book is elevated above all others and I love it to bits!

Obviously it's a taste thing, a friend of mine wasn't too keen - but most of them are!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 3 May 2012
When I first read this book, shortly after it was published, I found it utterly engrossing. I loved it so much that, as I recommended it to friends, who almost exclusively shared my delight in this wonderful book, I was almost scared to re-read it, in case I had misremembered, or was disappointed by the reality on a second reading. I needn't have worried. I read it again this year and it is as good and beautiful and profound a book as I found it first time round. It's my Desert Island book and I can't recommend it highly enough.

McGregor's prose is beautiful, spare and poetic as, steadily and without fuss, he drew me into the ordinary lives of his ordinary characters on an ordinary street on the day that something extraordinary happened. I loved the absence of names for the characters. It felt liberating. I could approach the characters afresh without ascribing to them characteristics of people I knew with those names.

However I think the thing which moved me most was the dignity McGregor gives to the individuals. He describes them with care and respect and, in so doing, celebrates what's precious about each of us. At one point he describes a young man watching from an attic window as an elderly couple walk down their street and exchange a greeting with a small girl. It is an achingly beautiful descriptive passage.

McGregor has now written two other very fine, and very different, novels, both of which are thoughfully and poetically crafted, but it's this one that I hold most dear. It's simply my favourite book - out of hundreds. Read it and enjoy its simple and profound beauty.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2007
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 12 September 2012
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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69 of 77 people found the following review helpful
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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48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2002
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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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 29 June 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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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on 4 January 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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