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So Many Ways To Begin (2007)

So Many Ways to Begin (2007)
3.75 of 5 Votes: 4
1596912227 (ISBN13: 9781596912229)
bloomsbury usa
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So Many Ways To Begin (2007)
So Many Ways To Begin (2007)

About book: Finding out, as a young man, by accident, from an Alzheimer's-ridden aunt in a moment of deadly lucidity, that you were actually adopted and that your real mother was an unmarried Irish teenager, might be enough of an event to upset you somewhat, and perhaps compel you to give the cold shoulder to your loving but deceitful adoptive mother for a day or two.Imagine, then, if you were not just an ordinary young man, but a born historian. Someone whose boyhood idea of fun was going to musuems to stare at the exhibits of jewellery and weapons. Someone who derived joy from collecting junk from the roadside and labelling them and displaying them on the windowsill. Someone who spent most of his life looking for, as Jon McGregor puts it, "something he could hold on to and say, look, this belonged to my fathers and forefathers, this is some small piece of who they were. This is some small piece of where I began."In his latest novel, So Many Ways To Begin, 30-year-old British writer Jon McGregor creates a protagonist called David Carter who is exactly like that. A curator at Coventry's only museum, he learns about his anonymous parentage through the ramblings of his senile Aunt Julia, a friend of his mother's when they were both nurses serving in a London hospital during World War II. During their time there they helped deliver the baby of a teenaged girl, who never returned to claim her child although promising to do so."The not knowing was the hardest thing," McGregor has David say to someone later. Indeed, McGregor has created a character for whom not knowing would be very, very hard indeed, practically a professional blow. Yet, even though all of McGregor's careful character establishment makes it understandable, then, when David proceeds to glower silently at his adoptive mother for months, even years, it doesn't make him any more sympathetic.Here's the rub: the novel is reasonably well-written, beautifully written at parts even, but the central character is rather unlikeable. Reading the novel is like spending a train journey through the most sublime of landscapes, but with a companion who has a slight body odour problem. Occasionally, the wind gushing through the open window is strong enough to fill your lungs with fresh pine scent, but once it passes you're left wrinkling your nose and hoping he'll take a toilet break.

First, let me say “Thank You” to the folks at Bloomsbury and Goodreads “First-Reads” for the opportunity to put a copy of McGregor’s “So Many Ways To Begin” into my hands.“So Many Ways To Begin“ is an apt title for the journey of the protagonist, David Carter. McGregor takes an ordinary story and has it unfold through episodic chapters revolving around collected items linked to David’s life. This collection provides the framework for the story. Though not sequential in nature, the reader is provided glimpses of David’s history in these short chapters, windows to illuminate a growing boy’s life.David Carter always loved museums and collecting things. “It seemed perfectly natural to him, to be amazed by the physical presence of history, to be able to stand in front of an ancient object and be awed by its reach across time.” His collection reveals his love of collected personal artifacts and his aspiration to work in a museum.Cataloging physical reminders of a life is analogous with the complexity of one’s existence. David’s life is shattered by a long-held secret accidentally revealed by a family friend. History is much about who we are. With his secret revealed, David’s world is forever altered. “These broken pieces were all he had; like keepsakes pulled from the ruins. Fragile traces, dug from the cold wet earth.”The two quotes above speak to the literary caliber of the author. This is not a light read, but rather a tale that delves into complex issues of human nature, e.g. one’s coming of age, betrayal and loss, and all forms of relationships.McGregor’s novel is a recitation of David’s personal history and his life’s journey told in a beautiful and well-written story. It is obvious to this reviewer why this novel was long-listed as a Man Booker nomination. A very good and enjoyable read.
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There are so many ways to begin this review, but, then, that’s always the hard part, isn’t it…beginning…. This is a book I want to shove in the hands of every reader I meet. “Read this one,” I might coax cajolingly. “It’s good. You’ll like it.” Like the characters in this book, I have a hard time saying what I want to say. What I really want to say is that McGregor knows how to tell a story, not start to finish, but in little pieces, some from the middle of the story, one or two from near the beginning, and a few from the end. Somehow he manages to connect all the pieces together to make a whole puzzle; it is only when you look at it closely that you realize he has left whole chunks out, but it doesn’t matter at all. What I really want to say is that McGregor is—what—thirty? and yet he gets life, he gets marriage, he gets children, he gets grandchildren even. He sees the big picture in a way that most of us haven’t quite gotten at fifty, the sadnesses, the tiny bubbles of complete joy, the deep disappointments, the way we can turn mean, how we can forget with time, how hard it is to tell our stories, how hard it is even to know where to start.
Extraordinary prose and an extra-ordinary plot combine in Jon McGregor's second novel.McGregor has a lyrical, meandering style which he applies to the tale of an average couple from Coventry. There are a few skeletons in the closet of David and Eleanor (the protagonists). David Carter is in search of his absent mother, an Irish maid who abandoned him shortly after giving birth while Eleanor is dealing with the scars of her all-too-present mother's domestic abuse.The story plays out against the backdrop of post-war Britain and most of the domestic issues of that time make an appearance- the rebuilding after WWII, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, industrial decline and redundancies under Thatcher. However, the issues don't intrude too far into the narrative. You almost wish that they would however as the central plot is so mundane (hence the star reduction).Perhaps the two big themes that loom over the novel are chance and mental illness. So many ways to begin, so many ways that things could have gone differently and the story changed. Yet mental illness, which in this novel acts as a catalyst for most of the major plot events, dictates the shape of the story. These themes are not uncommon in literature, and it is the manner, not the content of McGregor's writing, that is the biggest draw here.
David, the main character, has been obsessed with history since he was a little boy and collects all sorts of memorabilia. As an adult he accidentally discovers a secret about his life from a senile aunt. Now he feels like his whole life and the items he has cataloged about his life story are a lie. McGregor does a great job of telling the story and showing how David deals with his discovery and how he subsequently handles the relationships with his family. I enjoyed this book and thought McGregor did a great job of writing about ordinary everyday life in an extraordinary way. I would definitely recommend this book.
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