The connections between books and places are complex but deeply held. If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, a book which makes a great effort to be placeless, is for me associated with Amsterdam and in particular the large attic room of the hostel we were staying in for a very brief few days in the city. Something about the lightness of that place and the otherwordliness that lurks in the corners chimes perfectly with this book. Amsterdam is a city which feels very old but is constantly, surprisingly modern. Whether it’s the post-war architecture or the very shiny cyclists appearing from nowhere, there is a sense of forward momentum and at the time that I read this book, it seemed the perfect mirror for all that.
Ostensibly, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, is a book about a residential city street on a single day during the summer. It is obvious from very early on that something dramatic will happen before the end of the day but it is not clear, until the very last pages, what it is and who is involved. The book follows, in almost unbearable detail, the lives of the people who live on the street and their generally mundane preoccupations. There is a single first-person narrative that runs through it which provides the general structure and then multiple third-person descriptions of other moments happening up and down the street. In essence, this is a book about compassion and the exquisite quality that a shared life can have.
It would be pointless to describe much more about the actual plot of this novel (that and I can barely remember the particulars). What I love about If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is the energy of the writing, the sheer dedication to making life itself poetic. During those rushed and unusual days in Holland what really struck me was the way that McGregor makes the most ordinary, recognisable things seem otherwordly (worth speaking about, naturally). It is his absolute dedication to his prose as something other than a vehicle for narrative that makes this a book worth reading. And, if nothing else, it does feature a lot of tea-drinking.