If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

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I'm not a big reader of fiction, but sometimes when I'm travelling I pick something up as a companion for the airport, plane, train or cafe.

I've just finished this and, to my surprise, started re-reading it immediately. Not really a surprise I suppose as the book builds toward an 'event' at the end, which puts a different perspective on everything you've learned about the characters.

The action takes place over one day in one street in a Northern English town. The characters aren't named (until the end when naming becomes an act of significance), just referred to in a cinematic way ('the boy with the white shirt and tie', 'the twins from number eleven', 'the man with the scarred hands'). We see them going through an ordinary day, with the foreshadowing of an extraordinary tragic event to come.

What I loved about it was the microscopically detailed but poetic observation, elevating the everyday to something worth noticing – because this author has noticed it, with precision and always with compassion.

The introduction is a stunning pen-portrait of a city at night, more poetry than prose. The 'event' when it happens lasts no more than a few seconds in the world, but is described over about three pages, all of it riveting.

Here's a bit of the introduction:

The low soothing hum of air-conditioners, fanning out the heat and the smells of shops and cafes and offices across the city, winding up and winding down, long breaths layered upon each other, a lullaby hum for tired streets.

The rush of traffic still cutting across flyovers, even in the dark hours a constant crush of sound, tyres rolling across tarmac and engines rumbling, loose drains and manhole covers clack-clacking like cast-iron castanets.

Restless machines in workshops and factories with endless shifts, turning and pumping and steaming and sparking, pressing and rolling and weaving and printing, the hard crash and ring and clatter lifting out of echo-high buildings and sifting into the night, an unaudited product beside the paper and cloth and steel and bread, the packed and the bound and the made.

(If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Jon McGregor)

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