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Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13

by Jon McGregor

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McGregor has written several other books and is admired within the UK literary community, but he hasn’t really broken out in the US that I can tell. More shame for us, because this is an amazing novel. The Guardian has two excellent reviews which provide slightly different interpretations but agree on the quality of the work.

Reservoir 13 is nominally a mystery, in that it begins with the disappearance of a girl at the New Year. She goes off for a walk with her parents and vanishes. The family has been on holiday in a village in the Peak District, a place they’ve been coming for years, and the village rallies all its efforts to try and find her. The media descend and the intensive search throws a spotlight on the place and its people. For a while. Then another story comes along and the spotlight recedes, reappearing intermittently when new information comes to light or there is an anniversary. Meanwhile, the village residents go about their lives, touched to greater or lesser degrees by the event.

The book comprises 13 chapters, each representing a year since the disappearance. We get to know a dozen or more of them as they are born, die, move into or away from the village, get married and/or divorced, lose their jobs, and grow older. Their backstories emerge over chapters, which means the reader can feel a bit at sea at first. But keep reading and you learn a lot about them, and at least for me, by the end I felt enmeshed in the village and its life.

As I was reading it occurred to me that McGregor’s novel resembles a 19thC one in its emphasis on the quotidian and the deep incorporation of not just human relationships but natural ones. I think every paragraph in every chapter includes descriptions of the natural world, e.g., the birth and migration of birds, the badgers in their sett, the flow of rivers at different times of the year. There is no differentiation, either in substance or style, between the human actors, animals, and nature. It’s not a romantic view, either. Some readers are going to find the style very detached, which I suppose it is, and the long paragraphs, lack of dialogue markers, and paragraphs and chapters which are structured by time rather than theme may be off-putting.

I was fully immersed in the story by the third chapter and found it hard to stop reading. Even though the characters’s lives were related indirectly, I kept turning the pages to see how they were doing. I started looking for the birds and the badgers and whether the river was going to overflow this year. As a reader I always felt as if I was standing outside the village, or viewing it from above, but I was completely invested.

This isn’t a village cut off from the world at all, but the world impinges on it indirectly. Economic and social issues affect the villagers’ lives and fortunes, and people move away to bigger cities just as they do all over the world. The teenagers keep track on Facebook and other social media platforms and everyone has a mobile phone. Somehow, McGregor evokes the timelessness of humanity and nature while grounding the story in a concrete present.

The book doesn’t have a big finish; it just stops. Some lives and relationships are at equilibrium, others feel as if they will have several forks in the road before they smooth out. I told a friend that I could have read another 25 chapters relating 25 more years of the life of this village, but McGregor leaves us in a good place. ( )
  Sunita_p | Sep 4, 2017 |
Deep in the heart of the moors and hills of the northern Peak District lies a community surrounded by reservoirs and one New Year a young girl goes missing. This shoots the village to headline news and despite all the best efforts of the locals the girl is not found. However life must go on and the effects of these events impact all around to a greater or lesser extent. Over the next ten or so years the book follows the local characters and the wider life in the area.

This is an incredibly unusual book in that there is little plot and the narrative takes place in a series of long paragraphs which almost list a series of events happening to people and also to nature, some are mundane, some challenging, some barely drawn. It takes a while to get into the book, I was expecting some form of twist or 'plot device' but there isn't one, it's just a description of life in a village after one serious event takes place. Once one realises this there is a wonderful rhythm to the writing and a lovely way of interspersing observations about nature with profound events in the life of the villagers. ( )
  pluckedhighbrow | Jun 26, 2017 |
A beautiful book, recommended to me by A Life in Books.

It is the achingly sad story of the disappearance of a teenage girl in a hill community in the heart of England. She was there on holiday, and she simply vanished. We have all heard stories like this in the media, and we know that these unsolved disappearances resonate long, long after the event. The names of Eloise Worledge, the Beaumont Children and Linda Stilwell are known to everyone my age, and never forgotten.

And yet… the saddest moment in this story comes when, years after the disappearance, one of the characters sees an item of the missing girl’s clothing, and doesn’t recognise it for what it is.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2017/06/20/reservoir-13-by-jon-mcgregor/ ( )
  anzlitlovers | Jun 19, 2017 |
A thirteen year old girl goes missing one night on the moors. Although her parents aren’t locals, the villagers all join in the search. They find nothing. Time passes. Birds migrate. Foxes breed. Villagers go to and fro. The seasons change. A year runs its course. And still no sign of Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. And so the next year starts on its way.

This is a truly fascinating novel. Jon McGregor follows the events of this English village and its surrounding moorland over the course of 13 years. But the viewpoint is distant, so far above the lives of the villagers that their actions are no more significant than those in the badger sett on the edge of the town near the allotments. Yet at times McGregor swoops down on individuals, like a bird of prey, so that we see them up close, larger than life. And then, without passing judgement, he swoops out again and time passes. No single story line holds sway. There is no apparent object. Progress is entirely temporal, i.e. the passing months that mark out the year. People age. They come and go. But with no more significance than the passing rains that fill the reservoirs or the hot summers that deplete them. It’s mesmerizing.

Ultimately this is a tour de force that may not be more than that. Although McGregor’s achievement here is remarkable, I doubt it sets out a new direction for the novel form. It’s an impressive feat, but once encountered I don’t see it being repeated. I could be wrong. Nevertheless, even if this is a one-off, it is certainly well worth reading and thinking about how it achieves its ends, and what that might mean. Highly recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Jun 15, 2017 |
‘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.
Read more of my book reviews at http://www.sandradanby.com/book-reviews-a-z/ ( )
  Sandradan1 | Jun 7, 2017 |
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‘Ordinary things,” the novelist Marilynne Robinson once remarked, “have always seemed numinous to me.” Jon McGregor may not share Robinson’s preoccupation with the divine, but few writers have more consistently affirmed the luminous dignity of the everyday. ..There are moments of sadness, of squalor, of indelible beauty. Look, this humane and tender masterpiece is saying. This is what becomes of us. This is what remains. Life goes on.
Reservoir 13 isn’t simply an iteration of the usual story, however: it’s a fascinating exploration of it. McGregor is a writer with extraordinary control, and he uses the power of the archetype as well as our genre expectations for his own purposes. We’re pulled in from the first page...The characters we watch are all warm enough, sentient human beings, prone to needing and wanting and mostly failing one another. But the eye of the story keeps its remote omniscient distance; it’s a cold camera-eye, or the eye of a hawk circling above the village, assembling everything impartially, not taking sides....Reservoir 13 is an enthralling and brilliant investigation of disturbing elements embedded deeply in our story tradition.
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The river is moving.

The blackbird must be flying.

— Wallace Stevens
i.m. Alistair McGregor 1945 -2015
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They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0008204853, Hardcover)

From the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even the Dogs. Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family's loss. Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods - mating and fighting, hunting and dying. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger's tragedy refuse to subside.

(retrieved from Amazon Wed, 09 Nov 2016 03:29:47 -0500)

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