“A quiet sunday afternoon, the last day of smmer. In his room at No 18, a nervous young man is storing his things: a small clay figure, covert photographs of his neighbours, pieces of urban junk. Two doors down, a blonde girl is packing her possessions, uncertain of where she’s going next. Across the road, a mother and father are sneaking away to the bedroom and locking the door; a houseful of young people are emerging from their night before; a man is painting the window-frames of his house. There is cricket, a barbecue, music, voices drifting from open windows – it had seemed such an ordinary afternoon on an ordinary street.
But this is an extraordinary day, like any other. A day crammed full of the unspoken, of love stories, unacknowledged grievances, unwitnessed triumphs, and, as the day falls to a close, a terrible moment of tragedy.
Later, the blonde girl will remember this day again and again; and when a chance meeting causes her to look through the young man’s box of personal archives, she will wonder at the photographs of all these people she knew nothing about. And she will ask herself how she never noticed the the boy from No 18 was in love with her.
With heart-stopping clarity, the lives of a city street are brought indelibly before the reader, taken on focus like Polaroids on the page.”
I was taken in by the time I had read the first paragraph; ‘The city, it sings…’.
I will draw a comparison with one of my favourite authors here, Kazuo Ishiguro. In many ways this book is the opposite of an Ishiguro novel. Ishiguro’s prose is taut, flawless. Jon Mcgregor does not seem to care much for capitalisation, separation of direct speech from the indirect, or for punctuation where it is sometimes expected. Ishiguro has the protagonist narrating the whole story. Jon lets the protagonist narrate the present, while he intersperses the narration with his own background of the past, a narrator who does not want to give away all he knows, and slowly eases the reader into the story; very similar to the way Haruko Murakami narrates in After Dark.
In some other ways, though, the author shares a lot with Ishiguro. Both authors can make you feel the wind on your face, the rain dripping from your hair and down your back. Both can make words come alive, not with flamboyant gestures but with a quiet assurance. Both have an undercurrent of deep melancholia which makes a beautiful contrast to the not so few smiling bits in the stories.
If Ishiguro writes poetry, Jon Mcgregor has written beautiful lyrics to the city’s music in his book. It has been a while since I’ve read something this beautiful, this poignant. This book is absolutely gorgeous in a very quiet, understated way. If you can find it, read it. It will haunt you…..
‘I look at my room, at the table with the flowers and the pot of tea, the two cups, I think how nice two cups on a table can look.’
‘And there’s a smell in the air, swelling and rolling, a smell like metal scraped clean of rust, a hard cleanness, the air tight with it, sprung, an electric tingle winding from the ground to the sky, a smell that unfurls in the back of the mouth, dense, clammy, a smell without a name but easy to recognise and everyone in the street knows it, besides the children, everyone is smelling the air and looking upwards, saying or thinking it smells like rain.’
‘He says, if nobody speaks of remarkable things, how can they be called remarkable?’