An Interview with Jon McGregor
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An Interview with Jon McGregor

Born in 1976 in Bermuda, Jon McGregor grew up in Norfolk, England, and currently lives in Nottingham. McGregor came to literary prominence with the publication of his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (Bloomsbury, 2002). The novel was an immediate success, and at just twenty-six years old, McGregor was the youngest contender—and only first-time novelist—for the Man Booker Prize long list that year. Short-listed for the British Book Awards Newcomer of the Year, the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, If Nobody Speaks went on to win the Betty Trask Award and the Somerset Maugham Award in 2003. This critical success enabled McGregor to write full-time, move out of his narrow boat, and give up his various part-time jobs, which had ranged from working in a call center, a T-shirt factory, and a post office to standing in a bear costume to advertise the new pound shop in Barnsley high street.

McGregor conceived the novel while studying media technology and production at the University of Bradford, where he became absorbed by the anonymity of urban life and its complete contrast with his rural childhood. As he has written on his Web site:

For a long time, I had felt alienated by this urban landscape; I had grown up in a small market town in East Anglia, and I missed the open spaces, the flat land, the ability to wander from my front door to the woods and the streams of the countryside close at hand. I resented the noise and the [End Page 217] enforced hurry of urban life, the litter, the disregard, the fear of violence. But that night, standing on the roof of my house and hearing the symphony of the city by night, I fell in love. I decided to write a novel about this love, and I decided that it would begin here, in the brief moment of quiet before the dawn.

This moment provided the opening to If Nobody Speaks—the pause in the city's all-night "constant crush of sound," as roadmenders, factory machines, delivery lorries, fighting cats, night fishermen, and drunk teenagers observe "the briefest of silences" (1, 3). McGregor's lyrical attentiveness to the moments of unremarked beauty in the minute workings of inner-city daily life frames a novel of great warmth and sensitivity, exploring the connections that puncture the otherwise anonymous urban routines of what he has called, in an interview with Neil Cocker, "the archetypal inner-city terraced street."

McGregor's second novel, So Many Ways to Begin (Bloomsbury, 2006), explores a similarly balanced investigation into the joy experienced in the most mundane and everyday occurrences as well as the emotional impact of long-term depression. Shortlisted for the Encore Award, So Many Ways traces the steady erosion of the youthful ambitions of its married protagonists David and Eleanor Carter (parents of the unnamed female narrator in If Nobody Speaks), with the narrative structured around a collection of personally archived objects from both characters' pasts. The novel's portrait of a marriage is set in Coventry—a city that McGregor has said he chose because the twentieth-century history of Coventry is a microcosm of the history of England (Cocker interview)—and traces David's search for his own identity after he accidentally learns of his secret adoption shortly after World War II. David's biological mother was, he discovers, an Irish migrant worker, and the novel's themes of exile, migration, alternative possible histories, and personal and national identity are echoed in David's work as a museum curator, organizing an exhibition entitled Refugees, Migrants, New Arrivals. Although it was less celebrated than If Nobody Speaks, McGregor's second novel was well-received by critics and has to date been translated into Turkish, Romanian, French, Finnish, [End Page 218] Italian, Dutch, German, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, and Hebrew.

January 2010 saw the publication of McGregor's third novel, Even the Dogs (Bloomsbury), which offers a compassionate and unflinching interrogation of a community of homeless characters, from the novel's central, dead character...