If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things - Jon McGregor

Genre: Fiction
On a street in a unnamed town in the North of England, perfectly ordinary people are doing totally ordinary things - street cricket, barbecues, painting windows...But then a terrible event shatters the quiet of the early summer evening and no one who witnesses it will be quite the same again.


Review: It was the title of this otherwise inconspicuous novel which first caught my eye - the nature of which led me to conclude it was about one of two things: either about something profound, or about mundanity and its inherent profoundity to which so many people are blind. It is repetition and constant exposure to 'everyday things' which makes people take them for granted. And it's the occasional exposure to a book like this which can make such people stop and view the world afresh, if only for a moment when they close it's covers.

"Remarkable Things" speaks from a distance with a style which allows no intimacy, allows great universality. Alternating between two threads of a story, one in first and one in third person, it's most noticeable attribute is the unusual punctuation, in that it features no speech marks of any kind. Even with a first person narrator it consists of, I said, oh, really? I said how do you know? He said he told me. He said I knew anyway. Admittedly I normally don't like styles like that. However in this context it seems somehow to add to the atmosphere - never directly attributing speech even to a first person narrator makes it feel as though there is a block, a distance, between what is being said and the mere observation of it which is granted to the reader. The other thing I found about this lack of punctuation was that it made me read slowly in order to actually pick up who said what, which for me was beneficial, as I tend to speed read but this is the sort of book which should be read slowly and savoured.

I particularly liked the first of the two plot threads for one reason: it related only loosely to the second. It seemed arbitrary, just as the choice of narrator seemed arbitrary - the kind of arbitrary nature of everyday life when terrible events happen and we want to know 'why?' but there is no answer, other than 'it's just so'.

The second plot thread is essentially a collection of details. It recalls the events of one day on a street by recounting individual movements, thoughts, quirks, whims, the very breaths of several nameless families and friends. Each household is another viewpoint, another story, another intersection of lives, another everyday irrelevance. The characters are endearing, quirky, stupid, sweet, likeable, unlikeable, imperfect and real. An elderly couple, students, small children, parents. The minute details of their stories which are told are, in many cases, emotively accentuated by what is not said, what they cannot say, and the emotional intensity makes it a poignant read.

In this way the novel blinkers the reader, focusing tightly on the feel and taste and sound of each individual simplicity, by gathering moments like photographs and letting the bigger picture gradually build up. Nothing is direct, nothing is crystal clear. The story is founded in flux, more in a series of implications than confirmations. Implications we all see coming, whose outcomes we can deduce, because they are universal to the human condition - we've all seen them or heard them before. It's not an unpredictable book, and that's kind of the point. What I liked about this book is it's portrayal of the remarkable. What's remarkable in it? I know what I think. And I know different people would say different things, but that too, is kind of the point.

Rating: 4/5