Book Review: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor


Beautifully written novel about the impact of tragedy on a small village

About the Book

Description (courtesy of Goodreads): 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. 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…

My Review

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 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 ever so 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 that was intentional by the author. I also found that, for me, 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.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers, Fourth Estate, in return for an honest review.

Book facts: 336 pages, publication date 9th April 2017

My rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

In three words: Lyrical, poetic, original

Try something similar…Autumn by Ali Smith

To pre-order/buy Reservoir 13 from Amazon, click here

jon-mcgAbout the Author

Jon McGregor is a British author who has written four novels. His first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, was nominated for the 2002 Booker Prize, and was the winner of both the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award in 2003. So Many Ways to Begin was published in 2006 and was on the Booker prize long list. Even the Dogs was published in 2010 and his newest work, Reservoir 13, is due in April 2017.  Author Website

Follow Jon on Twitter

Blog Tour: Gone Without A Trace by Mary Torjussen

Gone Without A Trace Blog Tour Banner

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for Gone Without A Trace by Mary Torjussen and to bring you my review of this chilling, twisty thriller.

GoneAbout the Book

No one ever disappears completely…

You leave for work one morning. Another day in your normal life. Until you come home to discover that your boyfriend has gone. His belongings have disappeared. He hasn’t been at work for weeks. It’s as if he never existed. But that’s not possible, is it?

And there is worse still to come. Because just as you are searching for him, someone is also watching you.

Book Facts

  • Format: Paperback
  • No. of pages: 352
  • Publisher: Headline
  • Publication date: 23rd March 2017
  • Genre: Thriller

My Review (4 out of 5)

Hannah arrives back from a conference to find that her boyfriend, Matt, has left their shared home taking all his possessions with him.   That’s all his possessions plus every trace of their life together.  It’s as if he’d never been there, as if their relationship had never happened. Distraught, Hannah sets out to find out where Matt has gone and why he left. But the more she discovers, the more questions it poses, the more she is driven to search for answers. Her single-minded search for him will have unforeseen consequences for her, her friends and family.   It’s impossible to say much more without giving away the plot except to say that the narrative pace definitely picks up in the final third of the book so plan your available reading time carefully!

This book is like a mystery tour where all you know is you’re in a car going somewhere but you’ve no idea what that destination is, you’ve just got to trust the driver to get you there. And Mary Torjussen is one hell of a driver. There’ll be unexpected bumps in the road, dead-ends, stop signs and abrupt hand brake turns. You’ll think you know where you’re going and then – wham – you’re taking a sudden, unexpected detour. So all I can say is: fasten your seat belt (tightly), sit back (if you can) and enjoy the ride!

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of the publishers, Headline, in return for an honest review.

To buy a copy of Gone Without A Trace from, click here

In three words: Compelling, suspenseful, unsettling

Try something similar…Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Mary Torjussen About the Author

Mary Torjussen has an MA in Creative Writing from Liverpool John Moores University. She worked for several years as a teacher and lives outside of Liverpool, where Gone Without a Trace is set.

Author links:

Follow Mary on Twitter
Follow Mary on Goodreads



Literary lists #10


My favourite bird, the robin, was keeping me company the other day while I was digging over the vegetable beds.  Unwittingly, he suggested the theme for my next list of book titles:

  1. A Feast for Crows – George R.R. Martin
  2. The Eagle Has Landed – Jack Higgins
  3. Black Swan Green – David Mitchell
  4. The Raven – Edgar Allen Poe
  5. The Owl Killers – Karen Maitland
  6. The Bear and the Nightingale – Katherine Arden
  7. Four and Twenty Blackbirds – Agatha Christie
  8. The Snow Goose – Paul Gallico
  9. The Wings of the Dove – Henry James
  10. Pigeon Post – Arthur Ransome

Review: Meeting with my Brother by Yi Mun-yol


Autobiographical account of the impact on one family of a divided nation

Publisher’s description: A sobering yet hopeful depiction of the volatile relationship between the divided Koreas. Yi, the narrator, is a South Korean university professor searching for his father who defected to the North at the outbreak of war. Instead he finds his half-brother and their tense meeting takes a surprising turn. This semi-autobiographical account upends the West’s assumptions about North Korean life.

My Review

This is my first experience of Korean literature and, although a slim volume, I found it quite a challenging read as it contains a great deal of detail about the history and politics of Korea, notably the separation of North and South Korea and prospects for reunification. There are a lot of allegorical features with characters representing particular aspects of ideological thought, such as Mr Reunification. Similarly the two brothers really represent the two parts of the divided nation. Only a small portion of the book covers the narrator’s meeting with his half-brother and, for me, these were the most successful aspects of the book with some interesting details of Korean tradition and rituals. The other parts I found quite dry. At times I felt the book verged on political essay rather than novel. What does comes across from the two brothers’ sharing of their experiences is that the people of each part of the divided Korea have suffered as a consequence of war, retribution (the law of “guilt by association”) and economic collapse. Ultimately, grief over their father’s death and this commonality of experience brings (albeit limited) reconciliation between the divided families.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of NetGalley and Columbia University Press.

Book facts: Publication date 4th April 2017, translated by Heinz Insu Fenkl with Yoosup Chang

My rating: 3 (out of 5)

In three words: Didactic, autobiographical, informative

About the Author

Yi Mun-yol was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1948 but the outbreak of the Korean War and his father’s defection to North Korea forced his family to move about until they settled in Yeongyang, his family’s ancestral seat.  He has written several novels and more than fifty novellas and short stories.

My Week in Books


New arrivals

 Carol by Patricia Highsmith (paperback, charity shop)

This was previously published as The Price of Salt but now retitled to tie in with the film starring Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett.  Two women from different backgrounds – Therese, a department store clerk who dreams of a better life and Carol, wealthy and married – strike up a love affair in 1950s New York that will have consequences for them both. This novel forms part of my From Page to Screen Reading Challenge and my Classics Club challenge.

Feast of Sorrow: A Novel of Ancient Rome by Crystal King (NetGalley ARC)

On a blistering day in the twenty-sixth year of Augustus Caesar’s reign, a young chef, Thrasius, is acquired for the exorbitant price of twenty thousand denarii. His purchaser is the infamous gourmet Marcus Gavius Apicius, wealthy beyond measure, obsessed with a taste for fine meals from exotic places, and a singular ambition: to serve as culinary advisor to Caesar, an honor that will cement his legacy as Rome’s leading epicure. Apicius rightfully believes that Thrasius is the key to his culinary success, and with Thrasius’s help he soon becomes known for his lavish parties and fantastic meals. Thrasius finds a family in Apicius’s household, his daughter Apicata, his wife Aelia, and her handmaiden, Passia whom Thrasius quickly falls in love with. But as Apicius draws closer to his ultimate goal, his reckless disregard for any who might get in his way takes a dangerous turn that threatens his young family and places his entire household at the mercy of the most powerful forces in Rome.

The Girl in the Glass Tower by Elizabeth Fremantle (NetGalley ARC)

Hardwick Hall, sixteenth-century England. Formerly a beacon of wealth and power. Now a gilded prison. Hidden away, forgotten, one young woman seeks escape. But to do so she must trust those on the outside. Those who have their own motives… Discovery means death. But what choice has any woman trapped in a man’s world? Imprisoned by circumstance, Arbella Stuart is an unwilling contender for the throne. In a world where women are silenced, what chance does she have to take control of her destiny?

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer (NetGalley ARC)

The year is 1348 and brothers John and William have been infected by the plague. Their fate is sealed. Until a voice from the skies offers them a choice: ‘You may stay here and spend your last six days with your wife and children. Or you may put yourself in my hands now. I will wipe the scars from your face and the swellings from your body. I will extinguish your fever. I will let you live your last six days in the distance of the future.’ John and William agree: they will live for six more days and in return they will do good deeds in order to try to save their souls. But there’s a twist: each of those six days will begin ninety-nine years after the last, delivering them each time to an increasingly alien existence. As they travel, the reader travels with them, seeing the world change with conflict, disease, progress and enlightenment. But all the while time is counting down to a moment of judgement…

Shelter by Sarah Franklin (NetGalley ARC, final cover not yet available)

It’s 1944 and Connie is a trainee ‘lumberjill.’ She’s been transferred from blitzed Coventry to the Forest of Dean to learn the lumberjack trade as one of the women forming the backbone of Britain’s war effort. She’s nursing a huge secret and running from her tragic past, and will soon have to make a life-changing decision… Women like Connie are finding opportunity and liberty like never before, but in this explosive moment of history everything is changing for women … and nothing is changing. Then, as now, is the price Connie must pay for her freedom too great? This is a novel about imprisonment and escape, about what makes a family, about solace in nature as civilisation is ripping itself apart, about renewal after devastation, about searching for safety, about love and about what personal liberty means for a woman.

On What Cathy Read Next last week

On What Cathy Read Next this week

  • Currently reading
  • Planned posts
    • Book Review: Meeting with my Brother by Mun-Yol Yi
    • Blog Tour/Book Review: Gone Without A Trace by Mary Torjussen
    • Book Review: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
    • Blog Tour/Excerpt: In the Eyes of an Angel by Kimberly Livingston
    • Book Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • NetGalley reviews
    • If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss
    • Shelter by Sarah Franklin