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Wednesday, 5 March 2008
So Many Ways To Begin
by Jon McGregor
I hadn’t come across this author until now. He was born in 1976, and this is his second novel. The first looks more experimental, and I haven’t yet read it - but this one I found both compulsively readable and beautifully crafted. It chronicles the life of David Carter, a convincingly imperfect, but very appealing character who feels to the reader quite tangibly real, as does his wife Eleanor. He has one particular obsessive pursuit through most of his life, but I won’t spoil the book by saying exactly what it is. It seems connected, though, with his work as a museum curator, and his early interest in artefacts of the past which leads him to that occupation. The chapters are each headed with one such item, a relic of the period of his or his family’s lives that are being described.
What struck me about this book was the way that the author, on the one hand, describes the minutiae of the character’s lives with a close-up realism which makes you feel you can touch them - but on the other maintains a perspective of distance and a view of the progression of time which enables the reader to see them as if from high above. This is done partly by making carefully judged switches in time period during the narration, which I found made the development of the book all the more compelling. These jumps seem to complement the characters’ own memories, and their judgements on their own past, and uncertainties about their future. An absorbing book which I recommend highly.
reviewed by Christopher Bazalgette