Sunday, March 28, 2010

SO MANY WAYS TO BEGIN by Jon McGregor (2006)

Named by GRANTA as one of the top writers under 30, Jon McGregor hits all of the marks with this second novel. As its title implies, there are so many ways to begin: relationships, careers, love.

Protagonist David Carter learns quite unexpectedly through the unintended disclosure of a secret by his mother's longtime friend, his Aunt Julia, (who thanks to early onset Alzheimer's no longer knows how to distinguish the past from the present) when he's twenty-something that he is adopted. His understanding of who he is and where he's come from falls away and he becomes obsessed with finding out who he really is.

Ironically, David's day job is as a curator and archivist at a local Coventry museum, so he is well-equipped to research the past. At the same time, David is struggling with the emotional loss of his wife Eleanor, who is wrestling with difficulties in her own past, one that she knows only too well.

What is interesting about the way that McGregor unravels their stories is his use of artifacts to drive the narrative. For example, we peer into their individual and shared lives by examining items such as "Shoebox of assorted domestic goods, bullets, shrapnel, 1953-60;" "b/w photograph of Albert Carter, defaced, c.1943;" Hospital admissions card, 1945 (discovered 1976);" and "Envelopes with Aberdeen postmarks, occasional 1984-2000." The tangible detritus of personal histories make David and Eleanor seem just like you and me.

I am looking forward to getting my hands on copies of McGregor's other books: IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS and EVEN THE DOGS. He had me captivated from the opening page right through to the end.

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