Reservoir 13

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 May 2018

Member Reviews

I have very conflicted feelings about “Reservoir 13” by Jon McGregor because I admired so much about its technique and ingenuity, but I often wasn't engaged by the story in that satisfying way I hope a novel will make me feel. The novel centres around 13 year old Rebecca Shaw who goes missing and the effect her disappearance has on the local village. It traces the reverberations of this occurrence for over a decade recording small slices of the villagers' lives and the changing seasons as well as speculation about what happened to Rebecca or “Becky” or “Bex.” In this way, the novel accurately reflects what it's like to be vaguely aware of a missing girl and periodically see references to her in the media over time. It's poignant how a missing child never ages, but remains a peripheral presence in our consciousness while we continue to grow and change. Despite computer generated sketches that speculate how Rebecca might look if she aged, the villagers mentally see the girl preserved in her youthful form and she exists fundamentally as a haunting unanswered question.

McGregor depicts a large cast of characters in a glancing way where we receive intimations about life developments, but never delve into any one character's psyche very deeply. Over a long period of time we see friends make plans for the future, follow different paths in life and reunite for awkward catch-ups. Marriages break up, optimistically come back together and fizzle out again. In this way, the novel gives the most extraordinarily accurate sense of village life where we have a vague awareness of major life changes for a certain group of people, but never truly get to know them. A novel which produces a similar effect (but has a very different style and nature) is Joanna Cannon's “The Trouble with Goats and Sheep” which also concerns a community's reaction to a missing person. It makes a poignant commentary about the natural way we socialize, make assumptions about others and never get the chance to truly engage with them on a meaningful level. It’s also really beautifully written but there are lots of mundane details about the multitude of characters’ lives alongside details that clue you into larger issues those characters are dealing with. Because I didn’t feel like I really knew the characters in depth, I cared about those mundane details even less than I would in a novel where there are a few central characters I got to know really well. If that were the case, I’d be okay with treading water waiting for a more interesting plot development or psychological insight. But, in “Reservoir 13” I felt like I didn't grasp who many of the characters were until page 200 or so – at which time there was so little of their story left in the novel it's like I barely ever knew them at all.

No doubt a rereading would yield a more fruitful understanding of the characters involved. The first time I read Virginia Woolf's “The Waves” I had difficulty distinguishing between the six central characters – partly because the oddball poetic language blurred them into one at first. It's only been through multiple re-readings that each character has crystallised into a distinct individual with many layers of psychological depth. In the long run, that made the novel feel so much more rewarding and also turned it into my absolute favourite novel. The comparison between these novels is apt because McGregor's novel also follows a small group of adolescents' lives as they grow up and in doing so poignantly captures the flow of time and paths in life. Woolf also traces how the sun rises and crosses the sky in her novel while McGregor gives equal weight to changes in nature. Frequently descriptions of characters' lives are interspersed in the same paragraph with an observation about developments in the lives of local animals like birds and foxes. So while we witness characters give birth, change jobs and suffer, we also witness over the years bats who breed, feed and hibernate. This gives an even more fully rounded portrait of what it's like to live in a community.

Alongside descriptions of specific characters McGregor also refers to the lives of peripheral individuals in a striking way. A man moves to the village and people think of him as “the widower” even though no one knows the specifics of his situation. It turns out that his wife isn't dead at all; they are merely separated. Yet, the community still think of him as a widower and never get to know many more details of his life. The false impression about him has been cemented in the public's consciousness in a way which is both tragic and comic. A similar impression is given of the missing girl's parents who are viewed from a distance in a way that we can see hints of their painful conflict, but don't really fully understand or know them. A different but equally meaningful effect is created when we get a slight understanding of the domestic abuse a mother receives at the hands of her mentally/behaviourally-disabled child or the fear of a woman who escaped a painfully destructive marriage or a man's conflicted feelings about his son's homosexuality. Other characters are hesitant to intrude upon these characters personal lives making the reader feel the excruciating sting of isolation.

All this means that I've been really moved thinking about what Jon McGregor did in the structure and style of this novel. It's a revelatory depiction of what it means to live in a community and society. But, at the same time, when I was actually reading it I found my mind so often drifting to other things and I found it difficult to concentrate on. McGregor's successful stylistic choices effectively convey powerful meaning, but at the expense of a wholly immersive story. So it depends what kind of reading experience you're after. If you want a book you can meditate on and get more out of by reading it a second time around, “Reservoir 13” is a great book. But it's not the kind of novel that pulls you into the text so that you entirely forget that the world exists around you – at least, it didn't do that for me reading it for the first time.
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This is an extremely rare case of Did Not Finish for me. I tried reading Reservoir 13 back in January when I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy from NetGalley, but ended up abandoning it a third of the way through. I returned to it last weekend and again it defeated me. Apologies to Jon McGregor and Fourth Estate - it's just not my cup of tea.

The story is set in a remote village of England's Peak District. Rebecca Shaw, a 13-year-old holidaymaker, vanishes without trace. The locals organise a search party and spend the following weeks covering every blade of grass in hope of clues. Rebecca's parents are at first frantic with worry, then overwhelmed by grief. As time progresses and chances of her survival dwindle, we follow the effect of the girl's disappearance on the village population.

The book's synopsis makes it sound like a thriller, but it's not. Instead the story focuses on the community in which the tragic incident occurred. Time marches on and each chapter covers a year of events in the village. We learn about the families of the local area. Babies are born, teenagers leave for university, relationships spark and fizzle. Rebecca's disappearance gradually fades from the immediate public consciousness, but it also lingers in the background as people realise that the perpetrator may still live among them.

Maybe it was the size of the cast and the constant flitting between characters. Maybe it was the book's slow pace, a drawn-out procession of ordinary rural life. But I just could not bring myself to care about this story. I have yet to read a single negative review of the novel and it has been hotly tipped as a possible Booker Prize winner, so the problem clearly lies with me. It would be unfair of me to award a star rating as I didn't make it to the end. So I'll just finish these thoughts and leave it at that.
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Undeniably beautiful writing, McGregor manages to make even the most mundane interesting. The small elements of people's lives become important. A literary soap opera of sorts. Really enjoyed this, although I know some people will say that 'nothing happens', that's true and also not true, it's simply about real people in a real place.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this book and read it over a day and night. The repetitive depictions of nature set the scene beautifully and were a nice echo to the idea of time passing for the main characters, even though it wasn't passing for the missing girl
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A unique perspective of writing the life of a reservoir around the mystery of a missing girl. Unfortunately,  I found this utterly dull and a bore to finish.
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Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13 made the Man Booker 2017 long list, his second novel to be long listed (his If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things made the 2002 list) and it's good candidate to take the prize. The story revolves around the disappearance of Rebecca Shaw, a teenager holidaying in the timeless unnamed village at the centre of this novel. Unlike every other novel with this plot-line, instead of focusing on the mystery of the disappearance, the whodunit/what-happened aspect, McGregor tackles the impact of that disappearance on the village and its residents.

Village life is repetitive: cows are milked, foxes mate, and villagers form committees. Nothing of any importance appears to happen, but people die, people have affairs, bad things come and go. Over the years, with a drum beat of regularity, events repeat; the only constant is the environment, the hills and buildings and the reservoirs, the places that hold the secret to Rebecca's whereabouts.

This is captured superbly by the style of the book - paragraphs are long, dialogue is minimal, and the repetition shines a light on how little anything in the end really matters.

An excellent book, very worth of the Man Booker nomination.

Book supplied by Netgalley for an honest review.
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I read the first 15% of this Booker-longlisted novel and set it aside. I knew what to expect – lovely writing, much of it descriptions of the natural world and the daily life of a small community – but I guess I hadn’t fully heeded the warning that nothing happens. You hear a lot about these Hardyesque locals you can’t keep straight (because what do they matter?) but never anything about what happened to the missing girl. I won’t rule out trying this one again in the future, but for now it couldn’t hold my interest.
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A seductive and beautiful read that well deserves its critical acclaim. I found its rhythmic prose both compelling and hypnotic and really fell under its spell one hot afternoon last week in our rented cottage in the highlands. I've read lots of reviews where it seems that Jon McGregor's style isn't for everyone but I really fell hard for it. Maybe the fact that I was surrounded by nature made the changing seasons all the more appealing to me. I was captivated by this beautiful rendition of this rural community and their changing lives across the year. Absolutely fell under its spell and I'll be recommending it to everyone.
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Thanks to NetGalley and to Haper Collins UK Fourth State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I had never read one of Jon McGregor’s novels before but I was curious by the description of this novel and more curious when I saw it had been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The biography of the author intrigued me even more and I finally managed to read the book.
The book starts with the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl, a visitor holidaying, with her parents, to a village in Britain (not too distant from Manchester and also near enough to Leeds and Sheffield for those cities to make appearances, so probably in the general area where I live). Despite a large search party and much publicity and community effort, the girl does not appear. At first, everything is stopped: Council meetings, Christmas celebrations, the lives of her parents who remain in the village for a long time. Slowly, things go back to almost normal, with only the anniversary of her disappearance as a reminder that something tragic happened there. Life returns to its natural rhythms. There are births, deaths, people get married, separate, get new jobs, are made redundant, people move into the village and out, cricket matches are lost (mostly), the weather is very wet, and occasionally dry, the reservoirs are checked, the quarries exploited or not, there are pantomimes, well-dressing, Mischief nights, birds come and go, clocks go back and forth, foxes are born, bats hibernate, crimes are committed, crops harvested, farm animals looked after… 
The novel (if it is a novel) is a slice of the life of the community of that village. The story is told in the third person from an omniscient point of view, and one that seems to be an objective observer that peeps into people’s heads (and observes animals) but without becoming over involved with feelings, just describing what people might think, but not going any further than that. The style of writing is peculiar, and perhaps not suited to everybody’s taste. There are very beautiful sentences and a particular rhythm to the paragraphs, which are not divided according to the different characters’ points of view or stories and can go from weather to animals to a person’s actions. Each anniversary of the girl’s disappearance marks a new year, but, otherwise, there is little to differentiate what happens, other than the chronology and the passing of time for the characters, the houses, and the village itself. 
There are no individual characters that have a bigger share of the limelight. We have the youngsters, who had known the missing girl, and we follow them, but we also follow the female priest, the teachers at school, several farmers, a potter, the newspaper editor and his wife, the school keeper and his sister… We get to know a fair bit about each one of them but not at an emotional level, and we become observers too, rather than putting ourselves in the place of the characters to share their feelings and thoughts. It makes for a strange reading experience, and not one everybody will enjoy. It is as if we were supposed to let the words wash over us and explore a different way of reading, pretty much like the passing of life itself.
There is no resolution (there isn’t in life either) and I have read quite a few reviews where readers were disappointed as they kept reading waiting for some sort of final reveal that never comes. We are used to classic narratives with beginning, middle, and end, and being confronted by a different kind of structure can make us uncomfortable. This novel reminded me, in some ways, of the film The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick, although in that case, the story was more circumscribed and here it is more choral (and less involved).  Reviewers who know McGregor’s previous work are not in agreement about this novel, as some feel it shows a development of his style and is the best of his yet, whilst others prefer some of his earlier work. My advice to those who have never read him would be to check a sample of the novel and see how they feel (although, remember that the earlier focus on the search for the girl dies down later). This is not a spoiler as the author has said saw in quite a few interviews and it is clear from the description that this is not a mystery novel. 
In sum, this is a novel for people interested in new and post-modern writing, rather than for those looking for a conventional story. If you are annoyed by head hopping and strange writing techniques and like to find a clear ending, then stay away from it. If you enjoy meditation and savouring every moment and are prepared for a different type of reading, you might be in for a treat.
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As in 'If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things' we focus on the little details, the easily forgotten minutiae of peoples' lives...and it will not be to everyone's tastes.
The story opens with a couple holidaying in an unnamed Peak District village desperately seeking help as their young daughter has gone missing. Anyone expecting an action-packed thriller as we race to discover the girl/body - or establish what happened to her - will be left wanting. Rebecca, or Bex, fades into the background though her presence remains palpable for those left behind. What we get instead is a languid, dare I say it poetic, account of how this major event affects the village and those living in it.
We watch a huge cast of characters resume their daily lives, getting to know some in detail, and we follow them through the thirteen years following this event.
Setting in a novel such as this is everything, and there's a real sense of beauty created here by McGregor. I wonder if it would still seem as beautiful if I didn't live in a village very similar to that described here. Perhaps not, but I admired the sense of charm given to the everyday, the ordinary. Charting the ebb and flow of this village and those who live in it seems to have been a real labour of love.
Thank you to NetGalley for the advance copy in exchange for my review, and though we're never given all the answers we feel we want there's plenty to satisfy us.
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Haunting with beautiful prose - a story that lingers, much like his writing in This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You.
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What a beautifully written book.  The descriptions of nature were exquisite and the steady, relentless passage of time was captured extraordinarily well. Would have loved to find out what happened to Rebecca though!
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The year by year reselling of the connected lives living in a small village in the north of England becomes hypnotic. On the surface, the book is an exploration of what happens when a teenage girl is killed without her body being found. However, this is the backdrop to the smaller, though equally intense, stories of the villagers themselves. Alongside this are the accounts of the changing seasons as they affect the bats, badgers and hillside sheep. 
McGregor's prose is poetic, urging you to slow down with him, to see what is there without rushing to the details you want to know about - which you never do. Highly recommended.
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'Reservoir 13' blew me away. It was haunting, tense, and uncomfortable but hypnotically written. It was an evocative description of rural life and relationships. I would definitely recommend this book.
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Although I appreciate this book is very well written I'm afraid I had to give up on it. The lack of proper dialogue and the numerous characters confused me and I could not get past about 25%. Thanks Netgalley for letting me try! I'm sure many will enjoy it but it was not for me.
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I found this book difficult. Didn't get to the end, didn't even look at the end to see what happened.
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Beautifully written, like a perfect combination of Undermilkwood and the Archers, like being a fly on the wall observing village life - reading this book you become a part of the village, not just a reader.   Loved it from page 1.
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To be published in numerous magazines in August: A teenage girl goes missing while on holiday in an English village. Seasons come and go and life goes on, but the girl’s mysterious disappearance continues to affect village life. Some people dream of finding her alive, others of discovering her body. This is not a crime novel, more a glimpse into human nature. There are a lot of characters, and you get to know each one as they go about their daily lives. It’s a quiet book, but it certainly draws you in.
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‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor is a thoughtful, intelligent telling of what happens to a village when a person goes missing. Told after the event, it brings a new angle of understanding to the post-event trauma of those on the outer circles of tragedy.
A girl goes missing in a village surrounded by moors, caves and reservoirs. ‘The girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex.’ At no point do we hear the viewpoint of the girl, her parents, or the investigating police. Slowly the story unfolds as we are told the life of the village through the years after it happened by an omniscient narrator, disconnected from the action.
I loved the way McGregor recounts the daily comings and goings of the village, the farmers, the vicar, the schoolchildren. The rhythm of life and nature is mesmeric, the message is ‘life goes on’. Love affairs start and end, babies are born as are lots of sheep, cows are milked, allotments tended. The village sits within the natural world of peaks, woods and rivers and, sometimes only in a single sentence, we are told of the hatching of butterflies, the unfurling of new leaves, the water running beneath the bridge. The writing style is sparse and all the more beautiful for that. The action switches from one person’s life to the next, sometimes in a simple factual sentence such as ‘this happened’. But as the action moves from one local to another, the story is slowly, painstakingly pieced together of a village which struggles to leave behind the mystery of what happened to Rebecca/Becky/Bex.
At the beginning I was unsure how the story would unfold: murder, missing person, runaway teenager, abduction? It is this not knowing which casts a shadow over everyone in the village.
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An interesting portrayal of life in a village following a tragedy. Evocative & haunting
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