This is the first in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could. It’s quite possible that if I read them now I might not feel quite the same about all the titles I’ve raved about to anyone who would listen but I’ll only include the ones I’m still happy to recommend. It’s partly inspired by Janet’s Under the Reader’s Radar series over at From First Page to Last which kicked off with Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things reminding me how much I’d loved that book when I first read it. The other reason is that this blog tends to be all about recently published books with the odd mention of backlist titles thereby turning its back on a huge number of novels well worth reading. I already have a list in my head and I know that some titles on that list will be out of print but if that’s the case I’ll be sure to mention it. Some may be a little obscure, some not so much and others not at all. Some I’ve already written about elsewhere in the past. So, with a nod to Janet’s post for its inspiration, here’s my first blast from the past: Jon McGregor’s So Many Ways to Begin.
Set in post-war Britain, McGregor’s novel explores both history and the possibility of new beginnings. Since stumbling upon a tobacco tin, still filled with cigarettes, dating from the First World War in his Auntie Julia’s treasure trove of memorabilia, David has been fascinated by the past. Regular trips to museums inspire a determination to run his own someday, and David takes his first step becoming a junior curatorial assistant in Coventry. On a field visit to Aberdeen he meets his future wife Eleanor, bright, sparky and determined to become a geologist as far from home as she can get. As Julia’s treasured memories become engulfed by her premature senility, she lets slip a secret that shatters David’s own history leaving him bitter and restless.
In vignettes constructed around small artefacts, often seemingly insignificant but freighted with a very personal meaning, this compassionate, quietly lyrical novel captures David and Eleanor’s lives and history – their disappointments and unhappinesses, their unfulfilled ambitions and their small compensatory joys. It’s both a tender exploration of a very personal history and an evocative portrait of post-war Britain.
What about you, any blasts from your own past you’d like to share?