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So Many Ways to Begin

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Overview

Now in paperback for the first time, 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 the 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 ...

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So Many Ways to Begin: A Novel

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Overview

Now in paperback for the first time, 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 the 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.

Praise for So Many Ways to Begin:

"Jon McGregor might be the best chronicler I know of the way small accidents can set a life in motion, and the way what's said between people-or left unsaid-can change everything. This is a beautiful book, elegant and particular and heart wrenching. I loved it."-Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It

"McGregor is a brilliant prose stylist, and here he excels at making … the ordinary seem extraordinary."-Sunday Times (UK )

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Jon McGregor is a writer who will make a significant stamp on world literature. In fact, he already has."Colum McCann, author of Let the Great World Spin

“[A] solemly lyrical novel…With grace and almost painful sensitivity, McGregor constructs a detailed character study that is also a meditation on the elusive nature of identity.”Boston Globe

"In this elegantly written novel, McGregor focuses on the interpersonal and the emotional, successfully dramatizing the impact of events on people's lives."—Library Journal

"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.”—Booklist (starred)

“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.”—Publishers Weekly

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 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The questionable reality and emotional truth behind artifacts propel this story of a British man's search for his past. David Carter, a museum curator fascinated with history and objects, discovers in his mid-twenties that he is an adopted orphan and becomes consumed with discovering his birth parents. The narrative traces the events of his life, re-created around descriptions of objects he and family members have preserved. While researching in Aberdeen, Scotland, he meets and falls in love with Eleanor, who is determined, despite her working-class family's lack of support, to graduate from college. Readers follow their married years as they raise a daughter and cope with Eleanor's depressions and David's relations with a female coworker. It is only after their daughter leaves for college that David and Eleanor track down a woman in Ireland who may be David's birth mother. In this elegantly written novel, McGregor (If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things) focuses on the interpersonal and the emotional, successfully dramatizing the impact of events on people's lives. Recommended for larger fiction collections. Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. at Oneonta Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Literary aspiration can't save this British novel from maudlin domestic melodrama. Though McGregor earned a Booker Prize nomination for his debut (If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, 2003), his sophomore work fails to distinguish itself. The major interest here is formalistic, as the narrative cuts back and forth across the decades in the same way that memory might. Memory, secrets, identity and blood ties are the chief concerns, though McGregor doesn't have much that's fresh to say about any of them. A prologue finds a young Irish girl sent to England to serve as a housemaid, where doing the family's bidding results in her pregnancy. She keeps her condition a secret, gives the baby away and goes on with her life. The novel then turns its attention to Eleanor and David Carter, many decades later, before delving into their courtship and individual family histories. David, who comes from a comparatively happy family, has an inordinate boyhood fascination with museums and collecting artifacts, as if connecting with the past can illuminate the present. Since David is the story's protagonist, the reader senses some irony here-he must be the baby who'd been given away, and who apparently has no idea of his own familial history. As David fulfills his ambition to become a curator, neither his parents nor his sister mention anything about adoption, and when the secret comes out (from Aunt Julia, who isn't really his aunt), David is shocked. He falls into marriage with Eleanor, who knows very well who her parents are, but has suffered from an abusive relationship with her mother and the failure of her father to protect her. David and Eleanor start a family of their own, Eleanor succumbs todepression, David considers an affair, parents on each side die, David makes it his life's mission to find his "real" mother. With its plot contrivances and drably conventional characters, this novel never comes alive on the page.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596914858
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/21/2010
  • Pages: 384
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Twice Booker-nominated Jon McGregor is the author of the critically acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, winner of the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award, and, most recently, Even the Dogs. He was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, and now lives in Nottingham, England.

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