So Many Ways To Begin Paperback – Sep 4 2007
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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.
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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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
The basic premise of McGregor's tale is a simple one that has been presented in many ways in many books: a family secret from the past comes into the present to haunt and change present-day lives. What McGregor has done that is different is allow his work to take on a more interior feel which allows readers to twist in discomfort at the thoughts and actions of the everyday characters in the book. There is no tight plot; there is mystery but no methodical approach to it. Fans of plot-centric fiction will be disappointed in McGregor's work. His words and pages are pure literature.
There are times when one wishes the book would move faster, the action seems to linger too long in the characters' minds or their very slow actions. There are times one yearns for a bit more twists and turns, more secrets revealed and tossed aside, more progress toward the goal, the learning of the secret. But one must be patient to read So Many Ways to Begin and realize that although it is about a mystery, it is about more than that. It is about families and childhoods and memories. It is about what has meaning and what doesn't. It is about what we take with us when we move on, and about how we move through. Through life, through dreams, through shock and tragedy.
There is a great deal of love and affection in So Many Ways to Begin. It comes forth in odd ways at strange times and sometimes lingers on and on in the pages to the point where the reader questions it, dislikes it, wants it to be gone. There are other times when it is easy to want more: more detail, more connection, more acknowledgement. When it doesn't happen, the frustration of the reader feels so true to life, and this seems to be what McGregor is striving for, these incremental moments of living that are captured or not, take on meaning or don't, give us happiness or take it away.
McGregor's writing might not be for everyone, and he will be compared to Ian McEwan, but he is really his own writer. He knows what he wants to write about and how to do it. He's innovative, introspective, insightful. He's very, very real in his work, and So Many Ways to Begin must be commended for it is a special book that speaks to all of us in some way. It is not just a book about family relationships, about adoption and a quest for roots. It is not just about marriage, mental illness, crime and punishment. It is about the minutes that tick away in all of our lives every day. McGregor's work is going on between the ticks of the seconds, in the little dips of silence between the clicks on the clock. McGregor is in there, in everyone's silence, and he's very, very good at it.
Although there are no big secrets in this book, there are many little ones. Small things are revealed subtly and tension builds if you recognize them for what they are. Eleanor's agoraphobia for example was obliquely referred to in the very beginning, but took time to manifest itself in real time. Same with the actual reason for David's hospitalization; as soon as it was hinted that it wasn't for the reason given to Kate, I knew he had to have run afoul of Chris and could only turn the pages helplessly as it came to pass.
Mental illness is a major theme in this book, but it's never made pathetic or something to be ashamed of. David is patient and loving in the face of it and even though it makes his life difficult at times, he's never ready to walk out on the women he loves. The ending is a bit hard to take after so much yearning, but it is a fitting one. I think both David and Mary healed in small ways and rather than being frustrated, both seem satisfied.
........until a senile relative reveals a long-buried family secret. Then David's life slips out of orbit. So begins his own personal Reconstruction..and his coming to terms with the fact that his life has not been what it seemed....that he isn't who he thought he was. so begins his search for "self".
Add to this a wife with bipolar disorder and its attendant strains...troubles in the workplace both personal and professional.....a daughter turned rebellious...and David's own batch of demons and weaknesses..and you have a heartbreaker of a story.
The author has an engaging style that moves the story along without undue sentimentality or "drama"...The ending could have been "tighter", but that's a minor quibble..and seems perfectly correct, in hindsight. The book has a definite British feel to it...."brave stoicism" with hysteria and rage lying just below the surface.
I liked the way McGregor portrayed David's situation as his life spiraled downwards- the confusion, frustration and anger so well-contained....only bursting forth at intervals..then receding quietly..until the next time. McGregor also writes about sex between married people in a healthily realistic fashion- no "throbbing" or "heaving" here...just "the way it is" in all its glory...the blessed "routine" of it all.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys intelligent Soap Opera......who enjoys a good story, well told, without a patent "happy ending"...who is still "searching for self" (though maybe not this thoroughly)......I say give this one a try...
4 Stars (****) ( )