Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Published by 4th Estate in April 2017.

How I got this book:
Borrowed from a friend

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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.

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.

I was concerned, on starting this novel, by the proportion of truly terrible reviews it has. There are many five-stars, but also a significant proportion of one-stars. Having enjoyed McGregor's earlier novel, If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things, though, I wanted to read this one as well and fairly soon realised why Reservoir 13 causes such division amongst reviewers. The story starts with the disappearance of Rebecca, a teenage girl, so convention has it that this event should soon be followed by the appearance of a Dysfunctional Detective, possibly with a tenuous Personal Connection to the case, and culminate in an against-the-clock race to save another Innocent Victim. McGregor steers well clear of all these tropes! Instead he tells the stories of the village from which the girl disappeared in the thirteen years following her disappearance. It's a beautiful portrait of a community ripped open and then finding its heart again, but I think more suited to fans of Robert McFarlane than, say, Lauren Carr.

I loved McGregor's inclusion of the natural world rhythms alongside people's lives and traditions. Fox cubs learn to play as swallows arrive and then depart. Cricket matches are lost, harvest festival altars decorated, and the well must be dressed. It often seems as though Rebecca (or Becky or Bex) has been forgotten, but the effect of her tragedy is long-lasting. She is at the centre of the novel both for what happened and in time. She was thirteen at the beginning of this book and McGregor chronicles the next thirteen years, one per chapter, which I felt gave a good sense of balance to the story. The villagers are reminded by news crews descending on significant anniversaries or the rarely-seen presence of her mother. However, they also have their own lives to live and McGregor's observations of daily minutiae is superb. A wonderful and wonderfully unexpected novel!

Etsy Find!
by Charlies Crazy Couture in
Leeds, England

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Books by Jon McGregor / Contemporary fiction / Books from England


  1. Sounds an amazing read - one for my bookshelf

    1. I was delighted to have stumbled across this one!

  2. I always feel iffy to see the division of 5 stars and 1 star reviews on Goodreads for a book. But I guess at the end of the day, your opinion is the only thing that matters.

    I'm glad this one worked out for you!

    1. I was enchanted by Reservoir 13! Absolutely brilliant!