McGregor, Jon 1976-
McGregor, Jon 1976-
Born 1976, in Bermuda; son of a vicar and a teacher; married; wife's name Alice (a social worker). Education: University of Bradford, B.A., 1998.
Writer and novelist. Has worked in restaurants, bakeries, post offices, and a textile factory; also worked as a transcriber of notes for disabled university students.
Booker Prize "longlist" citation, and "shortlist" citation for Best First Book category, and Eurasia Region of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, both 2002, Betty Trask Prize, Somerset Maugham Award, Commonwealth Writers Prize, Eurasia Region, shortlist, and the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award shortlist, all for If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things; Booker Prize longlist, 2006, for So Many Ways to Begin.
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (novel), Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2002.
So Many Ways to Begin, Bloomsbury (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to anthologies, including Five Easy Pieces and Pulp Faction, 1998. Contributor to periodicals, including Granta magazine.
Jon McGregor was only twenty-six years old when his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, made the "longlist" for the Booker Prize. The honor catapulted McGregor to fame in England, where the Booker Prize is considered an outstanding career achievement. The young author was working as a kitchen helper in a vegetarian restaurant when he heard of his debut novel's success. Since then, he has been able to support himself as a writer, his dream since his college days. As Claire Bowman put it in the London Times, McGregor is "just an ordinary bloke in an ordinary town with an ordinary life—he just happens to have an extraordinary talent."
It was in fact the "ordinary" that inspired McGregor to write If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. The novel takes place over a single day in a single street in an unnamed English city, its residents shunning social contact until tragedy strikes. On the Bloomsbury Web site, McGregor described his setting as "an ordinary street where an unordinary thing happens. The story details the lives of the people living in the street, their interactions and lack of interactions, and the impact that this one day has on their lives. It's a story about the importance of the ordinary, the way that the everyday miracles of life and death go unwitnessed in favor of celebrity and sensation, and it's about the difficulty of experiencing community in an increasingly transient society."
McGregor drew the story from his imagination after hearing that a young man in Bolton was murdered at approximately the same time that Princess Diana died. As he watched the publicity surrounding the princess's death, he wondered about the anonymous deaths and tragedies that were simultaneously being mourned in private. Matt Seaton noted in the Manchester Guardian: "Death, or a death … is at the center of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. From the outset, the reader is aware that something bad is going to happen, although McGregor maintains a degree of suspense about precisely what until the final pages. But it is actually much more a novel about life; the presence of death in the story is counterpointed by the narration of one of the main characters, a young woman who reveals that she is pregnant."
Most members of the British press greeted the novel with enthusiasm. Julie Myerson in the Manchester Guardian wrote: "This is a clean, bare, sensitive and undoubtedly well-intentioned piece of fiction by someone still in his twenties. It's admirably adventurous." New Statesman contributor Abbie Fielding-Smith styled the work "at once an irritating and a moving paean to the small moments in life that often pass unnoticed or go unremarked." Fielding-Smith concluded that If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things "is a passionate novel by a young writer seeking to unravel the essential mystery of other people, to make us care…. McGregor succeeds in what he set out to do: revitalize the commonplace." Bowman commented: "In McGregor's hands, the lives of the neighbors are laid out as a series of snapshots, a literary photo album. In dazzling close-up we are invited into their private worlds to witness their hopes, their fears, and their unspoken despairs…. But what shines out as much as the characters and the developing story line is the style of McGregor's writing. In his hands even the prosaic—the sounds of the city, of traffic and pneumatic drills—take on a lyrical energy of their own."
In his second novel, So Many Ways to Begin, McGregor "explores in minute detail the seemingly mundane experiences that shape people's lives" in writing that is "marked by its human insight and sharp observation," commented Sarah Birke in the New Statesman. Protagonist David Carter has been an avid collector since his youth, when he sifted through bomb sites in post World War-II Coventry, England. A relatively contented child in a happy family situation, David believes early in life that preserving the past helps to frame and illuminate the present. His infatuation with artifacts leads him to dream of one day becoming a museum curator, and at age twenty-two, this dream becomes a reality. Shortly thereafter, however, he learns a difficult personal truth: he is an adopted child, a fact that had never been revealed by his parents or sister. Stunned and angered in equal measure at this revelation, he becomes determined to locate his birth mother and find out the truth about his origins. As the novel progresses, David falls in love with Eleanor, a woman from an abusive, impoverished background who is estranged from her family and determined to acquire a college education. David and Eleanor marry, and much of the novel's narrative concerns their life together, their roles as parents of a young daughter, and the difficulties imposed by Eleanor's sometimes debilitating depression. David must also cope with personal setbacks, professional disappointments, the possibility of an affair with a coworker, and his ongoing quest to find his biological mother. When David finally steps out of the antiquarian age into the Internet era, he discovers a promising lead to her identity. In his "elegantly written novel," McGregor focuses on the "interpersonal and the emotional, successfully dramatizing the impact of events on people's lives," remarked Jim Coan, writing in the Library Journal. David's story, Booklist reviewer Joanne Wilkinson noted, "invests one man's day-to-day life with remarkable dignity."
The son of a vicar, McGregor was born in Bermuda and raised in Norwich, England. He studied media technology and production at the University of Bradford but began publishing short stories toward the end of his college years. He has moved frequently within the United Kingdom but prefers not to live in London. McGregor told the London Times: "People ask me how I write the way I do, where I get my ideas from, and I don't really have an answer. The most important thing for me is how the words sound; I read them in my head rather than on the page."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, November 1, 2006, Joanne Wilkinson, review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 31.
Bookseller, August 4, 2006, review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 9.
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 19, 2002, John Ezard, "Veterans Vie with Newcomer in Booker Prize Stakes," p. 7; August 24, 2002, Julie Myerson, "Woolf at the Door."
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2006, review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 1150.
Library Journal, October 15, 2006, Jim Coan, review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 53.
New Statesman, August 20, 2002, Matt Seaton, "New Kid on the Block"; September 23, 2002, Abbie Fielding-Smith, "The Song of the City," p. 55; September 18, 2006, Sarah Birke, "Emotional Intelligence," review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 67.
Publishers Weekly, October 2, 2006, review of So Many Ways to Begin, p. 35.
Times (London, England), August 3, 2002, Claire Bowman, "The Word on the Street: Interview," p. 44.
Blogcritics,http://www.blogcritics.org/ (November 14, 2006), Ambrose Musiyiwa, "Life and the Choices People Make: An Interview with Novelist Jon McGregor."
Bloomsbury Web site,http://www.bloomsbury.com/ (March 10, 2007), Jenny Parrott, "Speaking of Remarkable Things," profile of Jon McGregor.
Contemporarywriters,http://www.contemporarywriters.com/ (March 10, 2007), biography of Jon McGregor.
Leicester Review of Books,http://leicesterreviewofbooks.wordpress.com/ (September 8, 2006), interview with Jon McGregor.
Time Out London,http://www.timeout.com/ (July 24, 2006), Lisa Mullen, interview with Jon McGregor.
University of Bradford Web site,http://www.bradford.ac.uk/ (March 10, 2007), "Bradford Graduate Longlisted for Booker Prize."