If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (The 4th Estate 2017, first published by Bloomsbury Publishing UK 2002) by Jon McGregor is a remarkable piece of writing – a literary narrative that immerses the reader in the ordinary happenings of one particular street on one particular day, introduces us to the residents in the most minute and precise detail, and edges ever closer to the tragedy which they all witness and which forms the book’s stunning and shocking conclusion.
This is a study in characterisation – long paragraphs, with no speech marks, that depict the occupants of all the houses in a specific street in the north of England. On an ordinary day, couples fight and make love, a man is painting his house, twin boys are playing cricket in the street, a toddler rides a bicycle, students from a share-house are packing to move, a man hides a diagnosis from his wife, a young man sketches the architectural details of the houses. Nameless people living life in a hundred anonymous ways. But through this beautiful description runs two narrative threads. The first is told intermittently, in the first person, by a girl who has had some life-changing news. The second is the tragedy, which is at first only hinted at, although we have an ever-growing sense of trepidation about what is going to happen, and who it is going to happen to … which of the characters will harm visit itself upon? McGregor cleverly joins the first-person story with the tragedy, in a resolution that is tangential and surprising, yet heart-breaking. This is a novel of love and fear, of united grief and isolation, of belonging and loneliness.