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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 29, 2003
What a simple, beautiful book. The most unique aspect of this story is the split narrative the author uses. The bulk of the book is spent in various flats on a suburban street in London. Over the course of one day we're let into the minds of the various tenents, their hopes, their fears, and their desires, as the narrative steams like a freight train to a tragedy that we know has happened at the start of the book, but don't know what it is until the end. The other narrative is told first person by a girl who was living there when the tragic event occurs, and the action shifts focus between past and present.
It's interesting to read that some of the other reviewers read the book in one sitting or close to it, because that's essentially what I did as well. The book demands a certain amount of attention from the reader because the author has dispensed with names and obvious physical discriptions for characters unless it holds relevence to what's going on with them emotionally.Consequently characters are referred to as: 'The young man in room 18'. or. 'the boy in room 17', but surprisingly this device only adds to the potency of the writing and made for me a more moving reading experience.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2011
Even critics of this book remark on McGregor's poetic, descriptive, and beautiful writing style. The writing is fine, but I wasn't carried away with it. I didn't mind the lack of names, but I'd have to say that McGregor went out of his way to give us characters that were remarkable only because they were so unremarkable. The "mystery" and the "surprise" were disappointing, too. The main characters, such as they were, were downright stupid. I don't want to put any spoilers in my review, so I can't explain why.

I read this for my book club. Only one member liked the story, but she hated the ending. I disliked the story and thought that the ending was the only redeeming part. Near the end one of the characters utters the title, "If nobody speaks of remarkable things," and actually there is some merit in that thought. But then something truly remarkable happens at the end which - as contrived as it may seem - makes one ponder more seriously about how we are surrounded and bombarded daily with all sorts of remarkable things. In other words, why aren't we more appreciative of real-life miracles, and why is it that nobody speaks of these remarkable things? But like I said, I'm the only one in my book club who came away with that impression. Though I didn't enjoy this book and I can't recommend it, I can say that it reminded me - once again - to stop and smell the roses, and to make remarks about that smell, too. :-)
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2006
When I, a nonwriter, read a book, one of the mental games I play is to ask myself if I would be proud to have written it. The answer with this book is that no one but Jon McGregor could have written this spectacular work. It feels more like poetry than prose, more like dream than reality.

McGregor's characters have no names. They are like neighbors that you see in passing and may remember something about, some more than others, but never really know. While the Remarkable Thing referred to in the title at first appears to be an accident witnessed by these characters, it soon becomes apparent that there are many things of which nobody speaks--love, death, fear, grief. This failure to tell the things that matter to the people that matter leaves everyone bereft. Only at the end does the protagonist start to speak and to listen, and the book ends on a note of hope.

McGregor uses repetitive thems in his imagery, including fire and water, birds, mirrors, and the mirror images that are twins. In particular, he focuses on the twins to represent continuity and hope.

There are scenes that have the surreal feeling of dreamscapes--flowers growing in a burned-out townhouse, people racing down the street in office chairs.

This is a book to read for the sheer joy of the language, the structure, and the poetry. It is truly a remarkable thing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2006
The book is less a novel, (not that it matters, but don't expect one if looking for that sort of read.) It's more a lengthy poem or a novella -- I see it more as a musical tone poem. Declarative sentences of beautiful, sensitive construction build and awaken our eyes to an awakening day in London. The first few pages are stunningly strong and while all the book doesn't maintain this pitch, indeed no living person could, we don't particularily worry because at ever turn of a page is a new discovery.

Reading it in one shot is to be overwhelmed in the way watching the entire ring cycle or mahabarrata (sp?) would overwhelm. I enjoyed it over a series of nights, taking my time, and the language seeped into my dreams. It's a dreamlike work, and one any contemporary writer should check out both for it's strength and structure.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on June 20, 2004
The strength of this book lies in its profound attention to detail. The reader is able to place him/herself directly in the story due to the author's subtle choice of which details to include and which to leave out. The writing is nothing short of masterful; it's simple, but by no stretch of the imagination is it simplistic, as another reviewer would have us believe. I picked up a copy in an English bookstore in Prague because the title caught my eye, and I was instantly hooked. I feel sorry for the reviewers who have given this a low rating due to being bored while reading. I suppose those readers should remain in their fast-paced MTV-music-video lifestyle, but life's little details will pass them by.

This book is definitely worth taking a look at. Don't miss the connection between title and plot. Nobody spoke, so the only person who understands the remarkability of these events is the reader. Quite profound.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 1000 REVIEWERon August 25, 2010
If you start into this book looking for a conventional, plot-driven story, you might be disappointed. This is more like a motion picture put in words, exquisitely recording one summer day in the life of one unremarkable neighborhood in Northern England. As you watch the various residents going through their day from earliest morning until late afternoon, you also get to peek inside their hearts and minds and histories.

Most of the characters are never named, but as the author gradually unveils them on this ordinary day, they become real and vivid and sometimes heartbreakingly lovable. I was especially touched by the tenderness of the old couple who had married just before the husband went off to war. I confess, I was blubbering when he came back from the war and his wife said, "There's no need to shout. I'm standing right behind you."

This book is event driven rather than plot driven. The one day described here is a day that leads up to an event that all of the characters will witness. The book-long buildup to the event does get exasperating at times, so impatient readers beware.

Alternating with the day's progression is a second component of the narrative. One of the witnesses to "the event" describes her life three years after that day. Uncomfortable circumstances in her present life have caused her to reflect on what she witnessed and how it has affected her life since then.

Given the amazing buildup, the book's conclusion is somewhat wimpy and also sort of freaky. So don't hold your breath for a "shocking" ending. Read it for the intimacy with the characters and for the author's extraordinary powers of description.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2003
This book is just amazing -- I couldn't put it down. Beautiful, poetic writing, interesting characters, and a vivid and tragic ending. Reminded me of the film Lost In Translation -- nothing much happens but everything happens, and the same type of young, somewhat lost protagonists searching for some sort of fulfillment. I can't wait to read his next book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2007
This is one of the most remarkale books I have ever read. I've never encountered this writing style anywhere else - if anyone knows of another author who writes in a similar vein, please share.
I couldn't read this book initially. I was confused about what I was rading. After a second or third attempt, it clicked in to place, and I was off. I couldn't wait to get home from work to read more, and I digested it in a few days, despite only ahveing a few hours of down time each week.

I don't think McGregor even needs a story. There were story elements in this book, and the story was fine. But I think I would be happy just to read his descriptions of events and characters in the street, without end.

My only disappointment was that, at the time of reading, he had written no other books.

I'm currently reading his book 'So Many Ways To Begin', and that too is haunting and dream-like.

I highly recommend Jon McGregor's writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2009
Poetic, inventive, and somewhat jolting. I wouldn't call this book a "novel." It is far more poetry than prose, exuding a surrealistic quality that was, at times, unsettling. The offbeat rhythm, the searing observations, and the pain fascinated me. Even during the passages that seemed confusing, I found the confusion to be perfectly executed.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
I first encountered Jon McGregor through his 2012 collection of stories, THIS ISN'T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU, brilliant, oblique, some wildly inventive, all touchingly human. So I was prepared for something quite unusual from this, his first novel, 2002 Booker nominee and winner of the Somerset Maugham award. But I was not expecting something that, though written in prose, is virtually a poem, beginning thus:

If you listen, you can hear it.
The city, it sings.
If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house…

Six pages of the soundscape of a city at night, distant traffic, air conditioners, Bollywood music from a late-night curry house. All beautifully observed, but perhaps slightly self-indulgent? But necessary, for it is poetry that gives the peculiar balance of immediacy and distance that is unique to this novel. Turn the page, and it changes into the breathless lines of a first-person narrator, describing some disaster that she can barely comprehend. She cannot see it, but she is meticulous in describing the reactions of everybody around: "There was a man with a long beard, up a ladder at number twenty-five, painting his window-frames. […] The girl next door to me dropping her can of beer and swaying backwards, as if from a shockwave. […] The boy from number eighteen, moving through the locked moment like a blessing." Every detail recorded in a frozen instant of time, a dozen everyday stories, interrupted for a split second, burned into the retina of an observer who doesn't yet realize how much it has affected her.

Her, as we later realize; at the time, we do not even know her gender; we never know her name. Nor those of most of the inhabitants of this ordinary British city (Bradford, I believe). Only very gradually do we discover their various races and back-stories. For now, they are merely the children, the teenagers, the lonely singles, the couples, or old people in the various houses. For a while, I thought of making a map on which I could enter the various scraps of information. But then I realized that the author wanted the individuality to emerge from this mass of humanity at its own pace. The way it does, accelerating and expanding towards the end, is one source of the novel's momentum. It is a bit like watching Thornton Wilder's OUR TOWN, only harder-edged, more citified, less folksy.

The other source of momentum is provided by that first-person narrator, in alternating chapters. We soon discover that she is pregnant, but reluctant to seek help from her family or friends. Hers, too, is an ordinary story, and in a normal novel it might seem merely banal. But set against the life of that Bradford street, it is tender, disturbing, suspenseful, and increasingly mysterious as it seems to move away in both time and place from the original setting. Indeed, it is not until the end that you realize how the two strands connect, and even then McGregor has the wisdom not to tie everything up too neatly. Like his stories, this is a novel in which the reader must do a lot of the work. Bravo!

Despite the title, nothing in this beautiful novel is especially remarkable. And yet everything becomes so. There is a magnificent description of a city rainstorm that brings the same benediction as the close of James Joyce's story "The Dead." There are flashes of sudden understanding, human connections that bring tears to the eyes. And everywhere the traces of sheer love:

-- He says my daughter, and all the love he has is wrapped up in the tone of his voice when he says those two words, he says my daughter you must always look with both of your eyes and listen with both of your ears. He says this is a very big world and there are many many things you could miss if you are not careful. He says there are remarkable things all the time, right in front of us, but our eyes have like the clouds over the sun and our lives are paler and poorer if we do not see them for what they are.
-- He says, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?
-- He looks at her and he knows she doesn’t understand, he doesn’t think she’ll even remember it to understand when she is older. But he tells her these things all the same, it is good to say them aloud, they are things people do not think and he wants to place them into the air.
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