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

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

  1. I agree with you in terms of what the blurb promises and then the ending, or even the whole story not delivering on it… nonetheless, it was a unique book! 🙂 Great review!

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