Reservoir 13

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 31 May 2018

Member Reviews

This is the first book by Jon McGregor I have read and therefore his writing style was completely new to me: unusual and rather wonderful.

Although the starting point for the novel is the mystery of the missing girl, the hunt for her is not the main focus of the book.  Rather like a pebble thrown into a pond, it is the ripples that flow from this event - the effect on the village and the people who inhabit it - that the author concentrates on.  The routine of daily life through the changing seasons is mirrored by the changes in the natural world.  Particularly striking is the way the author moves seamlessly between the two:

“She wound the babies’ mobiles, and listened to the whirring tunes, watching the snails and frogs turning circles in the sunlight.  She’d closed the door behind her before the music had stopped. The badgers in the beech wood fed quickly, laying down fat for the winter head."
 
The book also charts the changes that affect certain families in the village: births, marriages, break-ups, deaths.   Annual events take place in the village, each year less and less influenced by the tragedy of the missing girl.  I liked the fact that certain phrases were repeated periodically but with slight alterations, like a chorus with a word or two changed each time it is sung.

“The girl had been looked for; in the beech wood, in the river, in the hollows at Black Bull Rocks.”
“The girl had been looked for at the flooded quarry...She had been looked for in the caves along the river...”
“She had been looked for, everywhere.”

In spite of everything I loved about the book – the lyrical, inventive writing – I found myself slightly disappointed at the end.  Maybe that’s always the way with a book that promises so much!  I guess I was hoping for answers that were not provided - perhaps this was intentional by the author.  I also found that as time went on the links between the missing girl and what was happening to the families in the village became less relevant, almost imperceptible...but again perhaps that was the point the author was trying to make.
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I had a good time reading Reservoir 13. There’s something I really like about the narrative style used in the book, sort of an omnipotent point of view allowing vivid descriptions of the world the characters inhabit as well as intimate details about the characters. This style reminds me of the only other novel I’ve read by the author, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. I enjoyed the way the novel is structured; there are no chapters but the novel is split into little vignettes of different lengths which focus on a particular character or event. Reservoir 13 addresses a lot of big issues revolving around the cycle of life and death and is quite poignant at times. I found the book very sad at times, especially when the passage of time is marked by saying how old the missing girl would have been. It took me ages to read this book, not because it’s a bad book but because it’s the kind of book that needs to be read slowly so the rich, vivid detail can be absorbed and savoured.
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Previously, I have read and loved McGregor's short stories, but this is the first novel I've tried.  I found it very difficult to put down despite its measured pace, and I will definitely seek out his other books.  The novel gradually builds a picture of a fully realised group of people, and it has the richest sense of place I can remember.
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Full disclosure: I love Jon McGregor. I think his writing is just beautiful and this novel is no exception. 

McGregor tells the story of a village in the Peak District. A tourist, whose name is - Rebecca, Becky, or Bex - goes missing on New Year's Eve. Those looking for a thriller or whodunnit will be disappointed, that is not what this novel is about. The disappearance is simply a starting point, the thing that draws focus to the village. 

McGregor has a deep understanding and affection for country life. I'm from a small town in the North of England and my childhood was reflected back at me in this work - the sniping of council meetings and local politics, village gossip, the annual panto, minor chaos caused on Mischief night, the local pub, gripes about parking, shops struggling, dependence on tourism. McGregor writes with such subtlety and yet made me laugh out loud on more than one occasion with his completely accurate depictions of small town problems. 

The characters are by no means diverse, but they themselves reflect on this in quiet but enlightening ways - when Su questions how diversity is handled in the village primary school the teacher's response is cringe-worthy, but something I can easily imagine being said. The characters do however reflect every stage of life - from children and young people heading to university to those at the end of their lives. All are drawn with great sympathy and their relationships are often touching. 

I loved following the rotating of the seasons over a decade. I found myself looking forward to New Year, when the fireworks would drift from towns across the valley and a new year would begin. McGregor really conveys the importance of seasons in country life - the work of the farmers, the animals in the village, the change in the weather and ultimately in people's moods. Living in the city now this is one thing I miss deeply, there is not the same sense of different seasons and a new beginning with the commencement of each one. 

A quietly stunning novel, filled with beautifully drawn, realistic characters.
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I found this book just ok for me, there was enough mystery and I enjoyed how it was written but I found my mind would wander during some of it and I would have to re read as I would lose interest.  Just really didn't keep me gripped enough unfortunately.  Maybe this author isn't for me.
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Startlingly refreshing, with an amazing sense of time passing - you become tuned to the seasons passing, and the stories of the entire village become as known to you as those of your own personal community. The strands that weave through from the missing girl linger for generations.
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I fully acknowledge the reason I gave this book two stars might have been me rather than because the book was bad. I tried Jon McGregor's work once before: If noone speaks of remarkable things was the book I tried and I hated it. After reading this book I realised his writing style is just not for me. 
I liked the sound of the book but I hated it, I just found it really dull. I was expecting to read a story about the missing girl and for the details of lives in the village to be the filler but instead it felt like the other way round. 
"They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and wanted to be told what to do. It was cold and there was little conversation. There were questions that weren't being asked. The missing girl's name was Rebecca Shaw."
Rebecca had been out for a walk with her parents when she disappeared, they had come to stay in the village for New Year. She was 13 years old, five feet tall and had dark blonde hair. 
"They'd come running into the village at dusk, shouting. It was a cold night to have been out on the hill. She's likely just hiding, people said. She'll be down in a clough. Turned her ankle. She'll be aiming to give her parents a fright." Peppered throughout the book are observations from the villagers about what happened to the girl. Many of the villagers also seem to know more about the events than they are letting on. 
However, life goes on and it does so in drearily minute detail. 
I am not the only to have reviewed this book though and many of the reviewers seem to have enjoyed the book much more than I did.
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