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on 4 June 2007
Having been utterly captivated by Jon McGregor's prose style in 'If nobody speaks of remarkable things', I opened 'So many ways to begin' with delicious anticipation. It does not disappoint. Whilst it does not have the instant panache of the beginning pages of his first novel, it beguiles and builds in a different way. The story of David Carter's journey through life works its way to and fro through memorabilia, building an intimate portrait of his marriage,his childhood passions and his not so brilliant career, and his search for his real birth mother. McGregor's prose is beautiful,poetic. I particularly enjoyed the interposing of alternative thoughts and behaviours that may or may not have happened, at key moments. They make you pause and consider, without stopping the flow of narrative or feeling heavy-handed. A lovely, lyrical book about everyday life.
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on 13 May 2007
I loved Jon McGregor's critically acclaimed debut so it was with nervous excitement that I awaited this follow-up. It is a different book: meandering but with the same clarity of expression which made `If Nobody Speaks...' such a privilege to read. The story follows Museum-Curator and adopted son David Carter through the course of his life. It is at once a paean to forgotten times and a celebration of the course of post-war British history. Through mementos from his life, David gradually integrates the past with the present and carries the reader along with the persistent tug of time. In many ways it reminded me of John Banville's Booker winning novel `The Sea'. It has that same longing, the same concepts of remembering and forgetting. But this is a superior novel. Jon McGregor is effortlessly poetic; this is easy-to-read and full of everyday occurrences rendered with the author's razor-sharp observation. Jon McGregor is an emerging gem of an author and this book will see his reputation continue to rise.
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on 16 August 2006
I loved "If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things" and rushed to buy this book as soon as it was published. It didn't disappoint. It is easier to understand and has a real "unputdownable" quality; the characters and their lives are beautifully drawn and revealed gradually as McGregor "drip feeds" his reader using literary, unpretentious language. I particularly like the way he withholds judgement or blame in this novel, thus posing hidden questions for his readers to answer. I found this to be a sad book in many ways, but also filled with hope, a particularly good choice for anyone born in the 40's or 50's perhaps!
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Proof that 'If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things' was no one-off (how could writing that good possibly be a fluke), 'So Many Ways to Begin' again deals with ordinary people leading ordinary lives, but bearing the weight of events in the past that deeply mark their lives. The style is again fractured in time, non-linear, but through its analogy of a museum of mementos, it slowly and simply builds up a solid, authentic and deeply moving exhibit of family-life in post-war Britain.

For David, a young man in Coventry who has always dreamed of being a museum curator, a structured life where everything can be organised, labelled and its provenance traced, the discovery that he has been adopted as a child upsets the stable view he once had of the world. The author contrasts David's relationship with loving parents who aren't his own with his wife Eleanor's strict upbringing in Aberdeen, and charts the emotional journey both of them have to make together to understand who they are and how their upbringing has shaped their lives.

McGregor's prose is deceptively simple, but bears deep emotional force in those well-chosen words and situations, raising them to the level of pure artistry, forging poetic and subtle resonances to social behaviour and familial relationships, to the secrets people keep, the emotional weights they carry, and the impact they have on their lives and on those of the people around them.
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on 27 February 2007
I've just finished the book and I have to say its the best one I've read in a while. It follows the story of David who was given up for adoption during the war and finds out by accident when he is in his twenties. It's a story about his beautiful romance with his wife and their family life together and also a story of their relationships with their parents. David's anger at his adoptive parents for deceiving him and his search for his natural mother are beautifully written and gripping. His wife, Eleanor and her volatile relationship with her mother that she cannot wait to escape and the effects it has on her in later life are truly heartbreaking.

A beautiful story, it had me crying at stages, though by no means is it depressing. You really get to identify with the characters and feel for them and I really felt involved in the story. The main theme of the book is family life, in all the different ways it happens, but I think my favourite parts were those about David and Eleanor's relationship over the years.

I have loved both of the authors book, this one is much easier to read and a far more gripping story. I intend to read any other books he writes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Heartwarming and a very positive book, a really lovely, well written story.
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on 26 July 2006
Some English writers read as though they are trying too hard - it's all too self conscious, as though it is an English essay. It's not a feeling you'll experience when reading Jon McGregor's new novel. The graceful prose never distracts or detracts from the absorbing story and the lives of characters who are created with both warmth and a lightness of touch which allows the reader to make them their own. Normally I like to read very quickly; with this novel I had to slow myself down so that I could carry on living within it. The only problem with having been unable to resist buying the hardback is that I shall feel peevish that I don't have it to read for the first time when it comes out in paperback!
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on 7 February 2011
This is a rare novel. It is the story of the mundane, but extraordinary. It's difficult to explain it in a review in a way that will do it justice, so I don't think I'll try. Suffice it to say, McGregor writes with such beauty and such restrained emotion about the sliding doors of life that it is impossible not be moved by this book. I cried numerous times throughout it and at the end. There is a particular chapter that I re-read often and it one of those books that left me with the feeling of "someone else in the world thinks like me". This book already feels like an old friend and I think of it often; my sign of a great book.
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on 2 July 2007
One of the most simple, yet captivating books I have ever come across! Jon McGregor's "So many ways to begin" have you going through so many different emotions. The book follows a middle aged man, a shocking discovery about himself and his heritage makes him think about how to begin telling his story. His discovery is the many small beginnings that he has had within his life. The beginning of a career, love, parenthood and so on. The book is so cleverly written that you find yourself comparing your little beginning and experiences with that of the main character. You cannot help but will him on through the story to follow up with his one true desire, to find the strength that he has been lacking through out the years to pursue his past and look forward to his future.

This book is truly a masterpiece and a wonderful read. There is no particular type of reader that would enjoy it more than any other because as I have experiences through the people close to me that have read the book, it manages to fully captivate a wide audience. Do give it a try, you will not be disappointed!
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on 24 January 2007
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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on 2 January 2008
In my reading group, we often have a range of reactions to the books we read and this lends a vitality to our discussions. However, when we read Jon McGregor's first book a couple of years ago, it received universal high praise, perhaps more than for anything we have read before or since. So this book, his second, had a lot to live up to.

I really enjoyed it. McGregor has a close and careful style that can illuminate the poetic within ordinary events. His two main characters, after their brief long distance romance as teenagers, settle down to a married life in which disappointment and depression become frequent occurrences. And yet, because of McGregor's sensitivity to nuance and atmosphere, and his affection for his characters, I found myself drawn into their lives, into the rooms in their house, sharing their small triumphs and their sadness with them.

The plot lines involving a mother who abandons her baby, another who shoulders the anger of this adopted son when he discovers the truth about his parentage in adult life, and a third who cruelly undermines her daughter's ambitions, are not particularly original or distinctive. Where a lesser novelist might have woven them into a standard work, McGregor once again skilfully helps us to see the remarkable within the everyday.
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