Customer Review

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars So many ways, 24 Jan 2007
This review is from: So Many Ways to Begin (Hardcover)
Jon McGregor - So Many Ways To Begin

Anyone who enjoyed Jon McGregor's debut If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things would probably also like his follow up, So Many Ways To Begin.

If Nobody Speaks... was notable for its dreamy, poetic tone and the way the story unfolded in shards like a broken plate being pieced together in no particular order. So Many Ways... also follows a non chronological path and has a similar ethereal quality.

The story centres on David Carter, a museum curator born in 1945. At the start of the story, he is disillusioned and restless, on a quest although the reader doesn't know quite what he is searching for. In the opening chapter it becomes apparent that David has just returned from a funeral, one that his wife Eleanor did not attend. Why she did not becomes another strand of the story.

The novel unfolds in an unconventional way: David is about to set off on a trip and he is sifting through his collection of mementos. Each chapter centres around one of these, the reader transported back to the time when the object in question was obtained. In between, we shift to the present again in 2000, where David is making arrangements for his journey.

McGregor's style is again other-worldly and lyrical, his sentences flowing with a soft rhythm that belies their external simplicity. Some of the story concerning Eleanor's past is told as conjecture from David's point of view, which adds a hazy, misty element: this happened, or this, or this, as the narrative follows the possible options of people's reactions from a past he is guessing at.

Throughout the story, we are aware of David and Eleanor's relationship - the difficult life Eleanor led as a child, the way it hastens the union between her and David, the career frustrations and more serious sequelae that arise from Eleanor's swift move to David's town of Coventry. We learn of the ups and downs of their marriage and sense the tenderness and love that runs as an unbroken thread throughout all their problems.

I gave this book 1/2 stars because I really enjoyed it. The missing half star is for nebulous reasons - having recently finished the wonderfully taut and disciplined Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, Jon McGregor's more floaty jumping-in-time style seems less cohesive and structured, but since this is a key aim of the author's, perhaps it is unfair of me to lop off half a star for it. Still, 4 and a half stars is a high recommendation and anyone who was swept away by McGregor's first novel will probably love this one as well.
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