…in which I invite someone bookish to share one of their all-time favourite works of fiction and what it means to them. This week’s Friday Fave comes from publisher Donna Ward:
I remember the day it happened. I was in a bookshop in Elwood called The Grumpy Swimmer. I go there because the owner stocks quirky unusual books you’re unlikely to stumble across in bookshops more dedicated to Australian publications. Don’t get me wrong. As a publisher of books called Australian Love Poems and the forthcoming Australian Love Stories I appreciate booksellers dedicated to Australian literature. It’s just some days I want to stumble across something without an Australian twang to it and on those days I head for The Grumpy Swimmer.
I have no idea why my hand reached out to take this book down from the shelf. It has an unassuming cover and a long title—something publishers tend to avoid.
I opened the first page and read the first line:
‘If you listen, you can hear it.’
Then I read the second line.
‘The city, it sings.’
Then the third:
‘If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house.’
…and there I was, unravelling like a skein of wool following each sentence until I was deep into this story and unable to put the book down. I bought it with my thumb in the page where I paused to pay and find a seat and continue reading.
If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things is the first novel of British author Jon McGregor. It was published in 2002. I found it in the summer of 2010 which is another beautiful thing about independent bookshops—out-of-date books linger on the shelves.
In the leather chair by the bookshop door I fell into a story of one event that occurs on one day in one street in one suburb in one city. After the stillest description of a silent city about to wake, the story begins in the moment of an horrific car accident. Then, McGregor slows the action down into a motion gentle enough to tell the stories of everyone living in the street.
There are many remarkable things revealed as the story is told, but none as extraordinary as that uncovered at the end when the remainder of the accident is described. What is clearly an horrific moment is transformed into something soft and transcendent, while not squinting from the finality of that moment. This is a story of how busy lives can distract us from events, facts and slight happenings we should take note of, tell others about and write of, lest we forget the beauty of this world and what it is to live in it.
If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things was long-listed for the Booker and Commonwealth Writers Prizes and won both the Betty Trask and Somerset Maugham Award. Pretty startling for a first book. Since 2002 McGregor has written So Many Ways to Begin (2007) Even the Dogs (2010) and This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You (2013).
For me, this book remains one of the jewels of English literature. It is poetic, not only at the sentence level, or the way the paragraphs and chapters flow and dovetail into each other, the entire book is a poem. I love writers who understand and try to master the poetic in their work. It leaves me satisfied, and it leaves me in a state of mystery, a state I often fall out of in the clutter of a day.
McGregor holds the narrative threads and weaves them into unusual ways that remind the reader there is another force in the world, a force other than the linear and literal, a force that expresses itself in synchronicity and metaphor so subtle and prevalent that we mundane humans living in places as profane as the city will miss out if we do not speak of it.
Donna Ward is the publisher at Inkerman & Blunt which recently brought out Australian Love Poems 2013, ed. Mark Tredinnick. She was the founding managing editor of indigo, the journal of Western Australian creative writing and immediate past editor of Sotto Magazine, an online publication of Australian Poetry. Her prose has been published in Island Magazine, Ext2012, Fish Anthology 2012 and JuteBox Anthology.
Your turn: Have you ever loved a book so much after just a few lines that you’ve stayed in the bookshop to read it?!