Jon McGregor, whose first novel was the acclaimed If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things (2002), turns thirty this year, though you wouldn’t know it from So Many Ways To Begin. Merely at the level of physical description McGregor seems to know what it feels like not just to be far older than he is but to have become far older. The action of So Many Ways To Begin takes place over several decades; characters age, wither, die. Not even John Updike – whose adjectival roguishness McGregor shares – can compete. It took him thirty years and more to anatomise a similar time-span in the life and death of Rabbit Angstrom.
Not that McGregor’s hero, David Carter, is anything like Updike’s. For one thing, he’s rather more uxorious. Even though his wife Eleanor descends into a catatonic withdrawal after the birth of their daughter Kate, he resists the blandishments of other women. In one of the novel’s best scenes he visits