On a street in a town in the north of England, perfectly ordinary people are doing totally normal things – children play cricket, window-frames are painted, a couple argues, students pack up their belongings, and nameless people pass each other like every other day, interweaving yet never connecting. But a terrible event shatters the quiet of the summer evening and no one who witnesses it will ever be the same again.
Published in 2002, McGregor’s debut novel is a tale of suspense – of how a tragic event affects the lives of the people living in one street. The story alternates between present – the unnamed girl who was formerly resident on the street and was witness to the tragedy – and the past, where we see snapshots of all the residents on the day, including the girl, building up to the event.
The characters are largely anonymous throughout the novel which adds to the sense of detachment and helps to increase the feeling of foreboding. At times, the book feels rather mundane but at the same time, one wants to read on to find out what the tragedy is going to be. I did make a couple of guesses, one of which turned out to be correct, but it was as much about the build-up and the after effects as the incident itself.
The writing style is unlike anything I’ve read before – there are no speech marks, rather the ‘dialogue’ between characters goes like this:
He said are you alright then?
I said oh you know, I’m doing okay but could be better.
He said sorry to hear that
The book is full of rhetoric – similes and metaphors – there is plenty of enjambment which adds to the feeling of imminent doom. Reading this, I felt like I was back in A-level English Lit class!
Some things about the writing did annoy me. The use of ‘thankyou’ throughout the novel (apart from one incident which I noticed where thank you was used) really grated on me. Similarly ‘carpark’ and ‘numberplate’ and plenty of other incidents of bad writing (or editing?) – but that’s probably me being a bit anally retentive!
This book is our January Bookworms’ choice and I’m certain there is going to be plenty of good discussion! Did I enjoy it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Probably not, as I’m not sure the writing style would be to everyone’s taste!