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So Many Ways To Begin [Paperback]

Jon Mcgregor
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 1 2007
David Carter cannot help but wish for more: that his wife Eleanor would be the sparkling girl he once found so irresistible; that his job as a museum curator could live up to the promise it once held; that his daughter's arrival could have brought him closer to Eleanor. But a few careless words spoken by his mother's friend have left David restless with the knowledge that his whole life has been constructed around a lie.

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From Publishers Weekly

David Carter grows up happy in post-WWII Coventry, England, where he combs bomb sites for things to collect and dreams of one day running his own museum. He lands a job at a local museum and, at age 22, learns from a mentally ill family friend that he was adopted as an infant. Irate and bewildered, David struggles to comprehend "how such a lie had been incorporated into official history" as he begins his adult life. His marriage to Eleanor provides some direction, but the couple is often rudderless, and McGregor (If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things) charts with a calculated dreariness David's frustrated attempts to locate his birth mother, Eleanor's terrible depressions, their professional letdowns, a few moments of happiness and the way "it wasn't what they'd imagined, this life." Once retired, David is introduced to the Internet, which yields a promising lead in his quest to find his birth mother. Melancholy permeates every page; readers looking for an earnest downer can't go wrong. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

As in his award-winning debut novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2003), McGregor's follow-up work is a celebration of an ordinary life. Each chapter carries a heading, much like a description in a museum catalog, of a relic, such as a tobacco tin or a pair of children's striped gloves. These items hold personal meaning for the novel's central character, David Carter, acting both as a reflection of his lifelong interest in collecting artifacts and as prompts for a series of nonchronological memories. The novel gradually builds an intimate portrait of his childhood; his long marriage to Eleanor, who suffers from a debilitating depression and is estranged from her family; and the small triumphs and dissatisfactions of his career as a museum curator. The defining moment comes when, at age 22, David accidentally learns that he was adopted and sets out to find his biological mother. The search for home and for connection lies at the center of this slow, cadenced novel, which invests one man's day-to-day life with remarkable dignity. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to Begin Aug. 29 2006
Jon McGregor's first novel was one of my all-time favourites so I was quite excited that the second was on its way.

So Many Ways to Begin is more like a conventional novel than If Nobody Speaks, which may appeal to a broader audience. That said, the narrative structure isn't entirely conventional either. There are nice looping storylines and you get the sense of spiraling in on the plot rather than following along in a linear fashion.

Without telling too much, the story is about David Carter, who grows up wanting to be a curator in a museum. He’s encouraged by his Aunt Julia, who later in the novel mistakenly mentions that David is adopted. Much of the novel is the circular way he tries to deal with wanting to meet his birth mother. The problem is that he was born during the Second World War, at a time when good English, Scottish and Irish girls were filling London to work, but also getting into a bit of pregnancy trouble. They didn’t exactly leave a lot of personal, identifying details behind.

There are a lot of beginnings in this novel--false starts, not really, but lots of ways to enter the story.

If Nobody Speaks is still my favourite, but So Many Ways to Begin is certainly an excellent second novel. I can't wait for the third.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "This is some small piece of where I began" March 30 2007
Haunting and intimate, Jon McGregor's soulful second novel recounts one man's journey to discover his past. David Carter has spent most of his adult life troubled by his present and by the mother that he never knew. As the novel begins with Mary, a lonely young Irish girl, who abandons her home in Donegal and travels to England to apprentice herself as a domestic on the eve of the Second World War.

Intent to be invisible as only a servant can, Mary keeps her head down and learns to go about her daily business "so that everyone could pretend you weren't even there." She works hard at saving money to take back to her family, and her days filled with silent, passive routine, but for Mary it isn't always easy to be invisible.

Mary cannot help but catch the eye of her employer and eventually she gets pregnant. She ends up having the baby at a local London hospital and then mysteriously vanishes; perhaps back to Ireland, her circumstances typical of the way it always happened in those days, "unfortunate pregnancies kept a secret, or else ignored, unstated, and in some cases, even denied."

More to the heart of the novel is David's story. David has attempted to build a life for himself and his Scottish wife Eleanor in Coventry after his parents left London at the end of the war. As a child, David, becomes an avid collector of bric-a-brac, spurred on by the fact that he never really knows much about his family or where he grew up, or what happened in the war and what his mother went through at home when the bombing was going on.

Encouraged by his adopted Aunt Julia who takes him to various museums, David develops an interest in history, "the same thrill of old stories made new.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  13 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immerse Yourself in the Ordinary! July 12 2007
By Curtis Grindahl - Published on Amazon.com
The author invites readers to observe closely as a life unfolds, each recollection triggered with reference to a found object. The story moves backward and forward in time, from World War II until the present, to tell a story at once curious and remarkably prosaic. The pace is slow but the writing is beautifully evocative in its simplicity. One feels present to the objects described and the events marking their significance to the narrative. I hesitate to say too much about either the characters or events since it is the unfolding of events and deepening appreciation of the characters that is the stuff of this book. I would say that there is nothing dramatic here, and yet I found myself deeply touched by the humanness of all the characters. Happily ever after has no place in this book, and yet I was certainly not depressed by the "reality" of these characters' lives. If I'm perfectly honest, I saw my own strength, fragility, heroism, cowardess, courage and fear in these men and women. There are no heroes here, only ordinary folks making the best of what life brings them. Through it all I was mesmerized.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful story with ordinary characters May 11 2011
By bookreader "Melanie" - Published on Amazon.com
I think this was such a beautifully written book. It took me a few pages to get into the writing style. There are no quotation marks in the character's dialogue. I think the Sunday Times described the author as a brilliant prose stylist. (and I would have to agree!)
The story is about David Carter who is a collector and curator at a local museum. When a senile relative lets slip a long buried family secret, David is forced to consider that his whole life may have been constructed around a lie. The story takes us from WWII to the early 2000's.
It is also a story of a marriage. These are just ordinary characters. However, the author has such a way with words, it is an absolute pleasure to read.
David is also an avid collector and the beginning of each chapter had a headline of a certain ticket, note, letters or object that he had collected and that chapter was related in some small way to the collected item. The item mentioned was used as a way for the character to remember points of his life. Loved it!!
I think some readers may find the story slow or without much of a plot, but it is the author's ability to find the extraordinary in everyday life and create a beautiful story that makes this a wonderful read. I enjoyed every bit of the story. It can at times feel a bit depressing and sad, but the characters were fascinating. McGregor has a way with making his characters extremely believable and readable
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quietly, quietly April 30 2010
By J. Ang - Published on Amazon.com
Jon McGregor's debut novel 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' made a huge impact on me, transforming the way I saw prose poems, and giving me a keener sense the sound and feel of words and sentences. The work had a beauty that was simple, amplifying the often ordinary and unremarkable. It was quiet and yet it resonated.

With such a strong first novel, it only made for a tough act to follow. McGregor's second novel, 'So Many Ways to Begin', draws from everyday objects and keepsakes as starting points for each chapter, weaving together threads of the protagonist David's life. As the title suggests, David is made aware of alternative beginnings when a close family friend unwittingly makes a disclosure.

The narrative is always tender: from the treatment of his young romance with Eleanor, even as she succumbs to depression when they marry, his relationship with his mother, and the estrangement of Eleanor with her own mother.

The writing is still as sharp, and the characters portrayed sensitively, albeit with a tinge of melancholy. However, it was not as engaging perhaps because of the writer's reticence. Too many things are implied or merely hinted at; e.g. Eleanor's estrangement with her family was not very convincingly played out without a pivotal event.

One only hopes for a young writer like McGregor, that he had not peaked too early in his career.
3.0 out of 5 stars a good read Jan. 8 2013
By J. Robert Ewbank - Published on Amazon.com
This book by McGregor is an interesting study in the life of one man. Like a friend of mine, he found out in his later years that he was an adopted child. The story begins long before then and goes long after then. The characters are sketched out and are believable. The story is not one of everything is great and ends wonderful, it is more like a slice of real life. I enjoyed it.

J. Robert Ewbank author "Wesley's Ways" and "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the Isms"
5.0 out of 5 stars very ,very enjyable Nov. 20 2012
By Christian H. Gortz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I am more of a non fiction reader but this book was suggested to me. Loved it. beautifully written,fantastic dialogues & suspense right until the very end 5 stars *****
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