Jon McGregor's first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, focuses on one block in a city street and one horrible event of the recent past, the details of which are concealed until the end of the book. McGregor reveals this place from two points of view first, through a young woman who was a witness to the event in question. The second point of view is that of the neighborhood itself, an all-seeing consciousness that seems to arise from the silences and sounds of the block and looks into the visible and interior worlds of its inhabitants.
Through this lens, the reader sees that horrible day, beginning with college kids who drift home at dawn from the clubs and moving forward, through morning tea, children going out to play, a lonely man collecting urban artifacts, a couple in their bedroom, people with regrets, fears and secrets. What weaves these people together and turns a collected heap of discrete activities into a cohesive narrative is the fast-approaching terrible event. We are drawn, with dread, toward the inevitable moment when the curtains will be pulled back and we will witness this occurrence for ourselves.
The writing here is absolutely resplendent, the work of a true seer, who does for urban England what John Cheever did for Westchester County. McGregor intimately understands his subjects and portrays them in all their specificity, their poetry and their shortcomings. He paints his setting with achingly vivid detail and attention, avoiding broad strokes. McGregor has rewritten the rules of structure and dramatic action, letting the drama of the unknown event seep backward into the entire day that preceded it. The reader has the chance to do what no unknowing human can: to realize that everything is about to change and to pay informed attention to the way things are just before a critical event, to walk the line between the ordinary and the revelatory. There is a hint of magic realism here, but in this truly singular work of fiction, one ultimately finds something that is simply magically real.