Sunday, August 23, 2009

Speak and Listen

In 2003 Jon McGregor was twenty-six when his first novel was published in Britain and nominated for the Booker Prize. “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things” is a haunting story of the events that transpire over a day, on a block of row houses outside London at the end of summer.

There are two narrators who describe the events. One is the poetic storyteller who brings us into each of the flats on the street, identifying the characters only by the number on their doors…“the boy from number eighteen” who collects weird junk, “in number sixteen, the man with the young daughter…” who could not save his wife from a burning house, ect. The alternate narrator is a young girl who lived on the street and is telling the events that happened as she relives them three years later.

The storyteller brings us into the homes and minds of the many characters who live on the street. We learn their stories, their hopes, and their fears as the day unfolds in an unremarkable way. But the young girl has elusively told us, on page 7, that as the day ended something tragic and unexpected happened on the street that all the neighbors watched, transfixed and stunned. The event itself is not revealed until the novel’s conclusion.

An underlying theme of the story is the secrets that the people on the block are hiding from each other. The man with the scarred hands,(in number 16) tells his daughter, “…if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?”

Jon McGregor has written a good novel that can be difficult to follow because of the structure. Not having names, but only flat numbers to identify the characters, makes it difficult to immediately distinguish one character from another. The build up to the startling ending scene made it anti-climactic for me, but style of writing, which is very poetic and colorful, and the strange twist of events at the end of the story made this a very enjoyable read.

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