- Paperback: 1 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury Press; 1 edition (Sept. 4 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0747585970
- ISBN-13: 978-0747585978
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.4 x 19.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 340 g
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #927,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
So Many Ways To Begin Paperback – Sep 4 2007
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'McGregor's careful prose is sharpened by anticipation and expectation' Observer 'An homage to ordinary people and ordinary things, to the parts of our lives that often go unspoken ... moving and honest' The Times 'McGregor's meticulous syntax melts into a hot flood of words ... This is a decorous novel that rises on occasion to ardour ... An intimate tale with penetrating things to say about the wider history of twentieth-century Britain' Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Sunday Times 'This is a novel of character and atmosphere ... The relationship between David and Eleanor from youth to age, imperfect, deeply loving, underpins the whole ... a book about the search for greater meaning in the strange dance of chance' Carol Birch, Independent
About the Author
Jon McGregor is the author of the critically acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, and winner of the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award. He was born in Bermuda in 1976. He grew up in Norfolk and now lives in Nottingham. This is his second novel.
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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." And as an adult, he obtains employment as Curatorial Assistant Coventry's Municipal Art Gallery and Museum where he immerses himself in the exhibitions and detritus of the past, looking after these physical traces of history, with their density of memory and time.
When Aunt Julia however, is hospitalized with Alzheimer's disease, she divulges a terrible secret, which shakes David's insular world to the very core. The story is simple enough, when Julia and David's mother Dorothy were working as nurses during the War, there was a girl and she had a baby she wasn't supposed to have, she gave the care of the baby to someone else, and then she suddenly disappeared.
This realization catapults David into a situation that unravels all of his confidence and self-assurance. But as he struggles to cope with the realities of his past, he must also manage Eleanor's sudden depression, thrust into the role of shouldering his wife's disappointments over the failure of her academic hopes. David soon learns that the real story about his past is far more complicated than anything he can gather together in a pair of photo albums and a scrapbook.
The need for David to know becomes an insatiable hunger, with weeks and months going by when he can think of nothing else, can hear nothing else, except of course Julia's startling comment, "of course we never did see the poor girl again." As David's long-lost mother becomes representative of all of his joys and failures at life and McGregor paints his protagonist as constantly caught in an emotional dilemma, Eleanor on the one side, Dorothy on the other, and the ghost of Mary constantly washing over him.
Drenched in English post war period detail and exquisitely written, So Many Ways to Begin is all about the small joys of life and about how our lives can be often changed and moved by much smaller cues such as chance meetings and overheard conversations, often at a moments notice. Life here is constantly altered and readjusted, always attuned to the course of things, "history is made by a million fractional moments too numerous to calibrate or observe or record." Mike Leonard March 07.
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.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
........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 (****) ( )