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So Many Ways to Begin by Jon McGregor

So Many Ways to Begin (original 2006; edition 2006)

by Jon McGregor

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3913627,416 (3.82)52
Title:So Many Ways to Begin
Authors:Jon McGregor
Info:Bloomsbury, New York (2007), softcover
Collections:My library, All books
Tags:novels, read, read in 2012, bought in 2009, English writers

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So Many Ways to Begin by Jon McGregor (2006)


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bookshelves: published-2006, one-penny-wonder, hardback, autumn-2013, paper-read, lit-richer, coventry, wwii, britain-england, aberdeenshire, britain-ireland, britain-scotland, slit-yer-wrists-gloomy, mental-health, plague-disease, bullies, families
Read from September 04 to November 19, 2013

Dedication: To Alice

Opening: They came in the morning, early, walking with the others along tracks and lanes and roads, across fields, down the long low hills which led to the slow pull of the river, down to the open gateways in the city walls, the hours and days of walking showing in the slow shift of their bodies, their breath streaming above them in the cold morning air as the night fell away at their backs.

It is plain that I need to read a third by this author as it seems preposterous that the same author can deliver a 4* of utter brilliance and a 1* of shudder...

McGregor brings some startling human misery to nigh on every character in this book: recreational domestic violence, Alzheimers, abandoned child, bomb sites and madness, all deftly managed and couched in emphatic and competent language. But where has the magical prose that enthralled us in Remarkable Things?

'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' - Leo Tolstoy

4* If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things
1* Even The Dogs
3* So Many Ways To Begin ( )
  mimal | Jan 1, 2014 |
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
"So many ways to begin" is the story of David Carter, curator at a museum in Coventry. David has always, even as a boy, been fascinated by objects, objects and the secrets they may hold of their previous owners. Fittingly, his story is told through objects such as "Lacework placemats (wedding gift), 1968" or "Small fragment of metal, unidentified, 1983". Through one object -- and one fragment of memory -- after another, we learn David's story, his secrets and those of others. It's a story of love and forgiveness, of what makes a family, of identity. There is a strong feeling of place and time, and yet of timelessness and universal applicability. Jon McGregor is my literary discovery of the year.
  littlegreycloud | Dec 9, 2012 |
This is a sad story about lives which are permanently damaged by childhood experiences. As such, it seems to me to contain an important truth. The story is slowly unraveled and I was confused at times about who various characters were. I suspect the author thought he was being a very clever story teller, but to me it served no positive purpose. Of course I'm in the older and dumber group of readers and I expect the young, smart set would have a different perspective. Anyway, I did find this quite good reading. All of the characters were quite believable to me and I think McGregor has made out a very convincing argument that parents carry a very heavy burden of responsibility, the extent of which they are almost certainly unaware. How we begin really is so important. ( )
  oldblack | Oct 30, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Jon McGregor’s novel opens with a story of a young woman who travels from Ireland to London in the 1940s to go into service. Two years later, she secretly gives birth to a son who is immediately taken away from her, and she returns to Ireland, telling no one of her disgrace. Years later, a man named David Carter learns that his mother did not give birth to him.

It seems like, with this premise, that this book would be all about memory and family secrets and all that, but at its core it’s simply the story of a life whose beginning is uncertain. The narrative conceit that underpins the novel is that David is imagining his own life story as he will tell it to his birth mother when he meets her. Each chapter begins with the name of a numbered artifact that represents a significant moment: Number 11 is a “cigarette holder, tortoiseshell, believed 1940s.” Number 43 is a “small fragment of metal, unidentified.” The conceit is effective in that reveals something of David’s character without actually distracting readers from the story of David’s life.

One of the most striking things about this novel is how utterly ordinary most of the story is. Aside from the mystery of David’s past, the plot mostly deals with the typical events of a typical, somewhat sad life. David grows up, gets a job, meets a girl, has a daughter. There are struggles and moments of drama, but of an ordinary kind. What makes the story extraordinary is McGregor’s writing. He picks up on small details—sights, sounds, sensations—and puts the reader right there.

The only other Jon McGregor novel I’ve read, Even the Dogs, had equally beautiful writing, although I thought the first-person plural voice in that novel was sometimes distracting. The prose in So Many Ways to Begin flows much more naturally, and I enjoyed the novel much more unreservedly.

See my complete review at Shelf Love. ( )
1 vote teresakayep | Sep 7, 2011 |
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To Alice
First words
They came in the morning, early, walking with the others along tracks and lanes and roads, across fields, down the long low hills which led to the slow pull of the river, down to the open gateways of the city walls, the hours and the days of walking showing in the slow shift of their bodies, their breath steaming above them in the cold morning air as the night fell away at their backs.
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Book description
So Many Ways to Begin is a potent examination of family and memory, a look at what happens when life forces you to let go of the person you might have been. David Carter is an obsessive collector and the curator of a local history museum. In addition to overseeing the community's archives, he has, since boyhood, diligently archived the items that tell his own life story: birth certificate, school report cards, movie and train tickets. But when a senile relative lets slip a long-buried family secret, David is forced to consider that his whole carefully cataloged life may be constructed around a lie. In fits and starts, his world begins to unravel.
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Coventry Museum curator David Carter cannot help but wish for more out of life. But Auntie Julia's careless words years earlier have left David restless with the knowledge that his whole life has been constructed around an untruth. And so he attempts to begin anew.… (more)

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