Review: so many ways to begin by Jon McGregor

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What’s It About?

David Carter appears to be a fairly typical man, in a happy marriage with a healthy daughter.  However, as his story unfolds we discover that not everything is as it seems and when he learned that his past isn’t what he thought it was, he is left unsure of who he really is.  As he battles this uncertainty and shares his past, we see that nothing has turned out the way he planned and the effect this has had on him and his family.

My Thoughts:

A few months ago I read (and loved) Jon McGregor’s debut book ‘if nobody speaks of remarkable things’ (read my review).  When I saw this book in the library, I immediately recognized it as by the same author as both covers are very similar, and so had to borrow and read it.

McGregor has a very unique writing style and its poeticness was one of the reasons I so enjoyed his first book.  ‘So many ways to begin’ has many similar traits in writing style though I didn’t find it as poetic as his debut, which I don’t think would have fit the story quite so well.  However, things such as not using speech marks did make the reading of it, slightly difficult in places as it wasn’t always immediately clear who was saying what.

‘So many ways to begin’ is a completely different story to ‘if nobody speaks of remarkable things’ and yet somehow manages to have the same slightly surreal feel to it, despite dealing with very real themes such as family, adoption and depression.  This surrealness does not impact on the intensity of these themes, and actually heightens the reader’s experience of them in certain places.

One of the things I really liked about this book was its unique way of telling the story.  Each chapter is titled by an object that the main character, David, has acquired in his life.  And the subsequent chapter is the telling of how it was acquired.  This means that the story isn’t always a hundred percent linear, but more like each chapter is a part of the puzzle of who David is.

All the characters in this book are very strong though it isn’t always clear why they are the way they are.  I think this is because it is told through David’s point of view and as a single character, he is unable to know everything about everyone, in the same way that you don’t know every detail of the lives of everyone you know.  I found that this actually made it a lot easier to accept the characters simply as being who they are, and while I would try and imagine why they are how they are, that was purely my guessing rather than being told how to view them.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with the ending as I knew that the ending of ‘if nobody speaks of remarkable things’ felt a little off with the rest of the book.  However, this was not a problem with ‘so many ways to begin’.  It did not finish in the way that I expected, but afterwards I felt that it was the perfect way to end the story.  It gave me a sense of completeness without actually tying anything up in a bow, and so I left the story feeling fulfilled and hopeful about life in general.

Overall I would strongly recommend this book.  While at times the style makes it slightly difficult to follow, the writing and story and themes are so strong that this is a very minor inconvenience.  I know that I will read future books by Jon McGregor and will expect unusual yet very perceptive writing from him.

Overall rating: 4/5

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