Reservoir 13: A Novel

by Jon McGregor

Paperback, 2017

Call number

FICT MCG

Collection

Publication

Catapult (2017), 304 pages

Description

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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
"The police did a presentation on crime prevention at the Gladstone, and while everyone was in there someone took off with a stock trailer the Jacksons had left on Top Road. There were some who thought this story was funny when they told it but they were soon set straight."

"Twenty feet in from the entrance, past dead-ends and leaf-lined sleeping nooks, the first cubs of the year were being born, spilling blind into a dark world of grassy warmth and milk. The days started with a cold mist that didn't lift until lunchtime and then only seemed to get snagged in the tops of the trees."

A thirteen-year-old girl visiting on holiday disappears from a small English village. This singular event serves as the fulcrum around which McGregor's melancholy story of village life rotates. If you're looking for a thriller of a read, this novel is not for you. The story unfolds at the pace of life, not the breakneck pace we currently think of as the pace of life, but the steady progression of seasons, the march toward the inevitable that can seem so slow but, once we get there, turns out to have been lightning quick. The characters develop so subtly that at first the reader wonders if any of them will take form. They do. They become neighbors and friends, distant acquaintances and icons of the village, just as they are. Best of all, even the landscape emerges as it would for anyone living in the village; the packhorse bridge and the crows and the foxes are characters too, members of the community whom we watch move through the seasons as vividly as if we stood in the copse below Reservoir 7 or on the gravel path up to Reservoir 5. Memorable and worthy of its Booker nomination.
… (more)
LibraryThing member chrisblocker
Imagine you're going to a party. Maybe parties aren't your thing, but come along anyway. It's a social gathering, mostly just standing around, drink in hand, talking with one another. You're new to town. You know no one. The host grabs ahold of you and introduces you to the other guests. Most of the town is there. Your host, we'll just call him Jon, drags you to a group standing in the kitchen. “This is Jane,” he might say, “she's the vicar at our local church. And this is Su, she and her husband Andrew are expecting twins.” Jon will introduce you to each guest that's present. Some he'll spend a few minutes talking with, others he'll quickly introduce you to and move on. Some will talk about other residents who are missing from the party. At the end of the evening, you'll have been given the names of forty or more villagers and brief stories about each. How much will you remember the following day? What was it that Martin did for a profession? What had Mr. Wilson said? What do you remember?

If you're like me, you probably only remember two or three things from that party. I would likely recall one or two of the most interesting people. I might recall the story one of them told me. I might remember the name of an attractive face. And I'd remember the host. Outside of these things, I will remember none of the details. So when Jon calls the next evening and tells me about what happened between James and Liam, Jones, Miss Dale, whomever, I will have no idea who he's talking about.

That is the structure of Reservoir 13 and part of the problem for readers such as myself. Sure, there are those who go to a party and can recall eighty or ninety percent of what they've been told. They never forget a name or a face. Those people will probably have a much easier time with this story. Me, I was struggling chapter by chapter trying to remember anything about the person from the previous chapters.

Reservoir 13 is without a primary character. It's a story about a town, and I love that. But in each chapter, representing another year passed, we're only given a couple sentences or a few paragraphs about each character. I couldn't keep it straight. And so, while a few remained in my memory from chapter one, others may have not made an impact until I got to know them better around chapter seven or eight. Others never made an impact, and though they were important throughout the novel, by the book's final chapter I honestly had no idea who they were. This can obviously make for a very frustrating read.

Reservoir 13 is a beautiful depiction of a village and all that happens around it. Perhaps the only character of relevance to this story is the town itself. There's some really great writing throughout, but those looking for a thread of a story or of characters they can bond with will struggle to make it all the way through. I struggled through to the end, recognizing the intelligence and beauty of this story and I wish I could've loved it, but I merely appreciate it for the talent shown. In a matter of weeks, I'll have forgotten all but what I remember from that party the very first night. It's not the fault of the host or of the town. It's my own. But one cannot discount that there are many others such as myself at the party and amongst the readers.
… (more)
LibraryThing member sianpr
Jon McGregor spins a multilayered story around the disappearance of Becky, the teenage daughter of a family holidaying in a Derbyshire village, over the Xmas holidays, and the effect it has on local life over a period of years following her disappearance. The description of Derbyshire is wonderful along with sharply observed nuggets on the multitude of people in this tale.… (more)
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
This is the kind of book that probably divides people into love it or hate it camps. But if you love the deliberation of craft and effective, precise writing, you’ll fall into the love it camp. If you need lots of plot, action and things tied up with a bow, you’ll fall in with the haters. It is an engrossing novel, but not an exciting one. It elegantly weaves the lives of English villagers with a tragedy that haunts them. Those are mere components though; tools that work the story forward. The real story is the rhythm and flow of daily life and the large and small changes at its core.

The thing that is most satisfying and impressive about this book is its style and approach. I’ve read two other McGregor novels and let me tell you - he varies his language and story-telling technique to serve the story itself. In this case his sentences and phrases are repeated often as the tale goes forward. You will recognize the themes and situations, but they are ever so slightly altered in each year so that there is progress made or a new aspect shown. As an example I’ll repeat the opening lines to each chapter marking the years since Rebecca’s disappearance -

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks going up from the towns beyond the valley but they were too far off for the sound to carry and no one came out to watch.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks going up from towns beyond the valley but they were too far off for the sound to carry to the few who’d come out to watch.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks going up from all across the village.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks from the Hunter place.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks on the television in the pub and dancing in the street outside.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks going up all across the village but from the hill they looked faint and the sound failed to carry.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks on the big screen in the village hall and the sound of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ along the street.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks in the rain, and thunder in the next valley.”

“At midnight when the year turned Rohan found Lyndsey on the dance floor at the village hall and hissed her while ‘Auld Lang Syne’ was sung.”

“At midnight when the year turned there was a fire in the caravan in the Fletcher’s orchard.”

“At midnight when the year turned there fires in three sheds at the allotments, and again they were burnt out before the fire brigade arrived.”

“At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks going up from the towns beyond the valley but no one in the village even lifted their heads to look.”

“At midnight there were fireworks in the next valley and tension in the village and no fires were set.”

All other aspects of village life are related in this repeating cycle. People’s situations and relationships, the state of bridges and well dressing, births, deaths, marriages and affairs. And not just for the humans, but animals, too - wood pigeons, springtails, foxes, badgers and the cycles of the river and reservoirs. Each aspect related is strung together one sentence to the next and not isolated in its own paragraph or section. Even though there are many actual reservoirs in the book, I think that the title refers to the number of chapters and that each one is a reservoir of village life as told over the course of one year. The deliberateness of this adds to the sense of the whole working together as one clockwork. When one thing is out of balance, all things are out of balance. It’s an amazing piece of work and beautifully rendered.
… (more)
LibraryThing member arubabookwoman
A teenager on a midwinter holiday with her family is a small English village disappears. We follow the life of that village over the next 13 years, in 13 chapters each covering a year and each beginning on New Year's Eve. The novel is narrated from an omniscient mile-high view of the village. There are many characters, some more important than others, but eventually, despite the seeming distance of the narration, we come to know these characters, their lives and the village. There is also a great bit about the natural cycle of the year through the seasons for the plant and animal life of the village. This authorial technique grew on me, and in its own way the narration is as revolutionary and different as I found Lincoln in the Bardo.

The chapters move quietly, gently and seamlessly from character to character, scene to scene, vignette to vignette, building an intricate and complex whole, all like fragments of a mosaic gradually coming together.

Don't be misled by descriptions of the book--it's not a murder mystery.

Highly recommended

4 stars
… (more)
LibraryThing member AdonisGuilfoyle
My final thought about this novel, upon getting to the end, was 'I FEEL CHEATED'. But then I realised that this must be sort of the point of the whole exercise - the author was playing his readers all along. Missing teen Rebecca - 'or Becky, or Bex', wearing a white hooded top, blue bodywarmer, black jeans and canvas shoes - is the lynchpin of the story, but this is not her story. We only learn about her through the other characters, and with every passing year, marked by fireworks, well-dressing, badgers, foxes and swallows, she fades more and more into the background, while the lives of those who still remember her move on. In a way, this Rebecca is like Daphne Du Maurier's eponymous character, driving the narrative from the memories of others.

I will admit to getting drawn in, after initially dreading the lack of basic narrative markers, such as dialogue and paragraphs (alright, there are paragraphs, but the wall of text faced on every new page was still daunting!) Lives move on, but nothing really happens - children grow up, couples grow apart, people die. It's like a very boring episode of early Emmerdale. But for all that, I was hooked - although I was still hoping for some resolution! I felt I got to know most of the characters, though, which is quite a feat .

Just a thought - if anyone is looking for a novel with a similar premise but more of a plot, try On Beulah Height by Reginald Hill, a Dalziel and Pascoe mystery. The setting is very similar, with reservoirs formed out of flooded villages, and the story involves a missing girl.
… (more)
LibraryThing member bodachliath
This is my second book from this year's Man Booker longlist, and for me it already looks like a potential winner. I had been intending to wait for the paperback but decided to buy the hardback as soon as the longlist was announced, since it was the one I was most looking forward to, especially after the positive reviews.
[Update 29/8/17] Having read all but four of the longlist, this one is still my favourite. The rest of my shortlist would be Autumn, Home Fire, Days Without End, Solar Bones and Elmet. Of the remaining four, Lincoln in the Bardo is the most likely to change my mind.
[Update following shortlist announcement] I am hugely disappointed that this missed the cut!

McGregor's debut novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things is still one of my favourites, and although his two subsequent novels (So Many Ways to Begin and Even the Dogs) were more difficult reads they still contained some luminous prose and demonstrated his versatility.

This one is a story of a fictional village which is never named, but is a composite of various locations in the Peak District. Like Sarah Hall's Lake District, it consists of landscapes and features which are very familiar to those of us who know the area, but these are concentrated into a smaller space than in reality. The story takes place over a 13 year period, with each chapter following the events of a single year.

The starting point is the disappearance of a thirteen year old girl who was staying in a holiday cottage in the village one New Year's Eve. She is never found, and the case is never solved, but instead we see its effects rippling as the omniscient narrator describes the lives of the villagers and the natural cycles, plants, wildlife, weather and other things that frame them - this gives the whole a rather satisfying structure in which some things recur but we see the characters develop and the character of the village itself subtly evolve. McGregor has an eye for detail and some of the landscape descriptions are very beautiful, he also allows breathing space for all of his characters, and writes equally convincingly about the young and the old, the male and the female. He is unsentimental about the nature of rural life but very sympathetic to the lives that make up the community.

This is a quiet, mature and richly rewarding book, probably his best yet.
… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
Reservoir 13 is a chronicle of the after effects on a small town in Derbyshire after a visiting 13 yr. old girl disappears over the Christmas holidays. The girl just vanishes while on a walk through the moors with her parents.

The structure of the book is intriguing: There are thirteen chapters. Each chapter covers a year in the life of the village and contains twelve or thirteen paragraphs. The paragraphs are structured around the happenings in roughly one month time segments that describe events in the natural world (plants and animal behavior) as well as various member of the community. Dialogue punctuation is minimal.

In the descriptions of the people in the village, think of a long episode of Midsommer Murders without the presence of DCI Barnaby and PC Jones. Everyone has their secrets, hidden motivations, and private thoughts...which often reflect back to the disappearance of the Rebecca, Becky, Bex.

Perhaps those most affected by the disappearance are four teens who are around the same age as Rebecca Shaw and had known her from an earlier visit the previous summer. For me, their lives were the most interesting to see unfold over the thirteen years. Especially when they leave for college and learn that the missing girl has come to be the one thing that identifies their home town on a national level.

When I first leafed through the book, I suspected that the writing and structure might be a gimmick and was a bit put off. Once I got half way through the second chapter, I was hooked. There are a lot of literary rules broken in this novel, but the author demonstrates that he knows enough about those rules to break them well and create a great piece of literature.
… (more)
LibraryThing member LynnB
This book is written in a unique style. On winter's night, 13-year-old Rebecca (or Becky or Bex) disappears from a small town where she was vacationing with her parents. This has a profound impact on the town, whose citizens joined in the search, who had interacted with Rebecca or her family, talked to police or reporters.....

Over the course of a decade, each new year is marked by fireworks, seasonal changes in animals and plants and the lives of the citizens go on. Couples break up, come together, have babies, die....and Rebecca (or Becky or Bex) while never forgotten, fades further into the background.

What is unique about the style is that the author writes in a very matter-of-fact way -- simple sentences, short vignettes of many citizens --yet manages to draw the reader into the life of the community and its inhabitants. Very well done!
… (more)
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
This is not a crime novel. Yes, a girl disappears in the opening pages and a massive search of the countryside around a Yorkshire village is conducted, but that's simply the entry point to the life of this village as it slowly returns to a kind of normal, as the years pass. Each passing year is contained in a chapter, each month in a paragraph. The various people living in and around the village live their lives; babies are born, businesses go bankrupt, the sheep are sheared, the fox kits grow up and leave their dens.

The entire novel rests on the quality of McGregor's writing and on his ability to describe complex situations in a minimum of words and of writing vivid, breathing characters in just a few sentences here and there. It took me a few chapters to fall into the rhythm of the novel, but once I did, I enjoyed every minute spent with it. Reservoir 13 really is an extraordinary book.
… (more)
LibraryThing member oldblack
This book is very different from most books I read, but nonetheless I found that it captured my interest pretty well. Given that there was a cast of thousands, and every relationship was therefore necessarily dealt with very briefly, I was surprised at how well McGregor could capture the essence of the relationships, and indeed, how involved the reader could become. McGregor shows a wonderful ability to paint a picture of a village which is profoundly affected by the disappearance of a young girl, and yet which continues on with some sort of normal life. My main problem was keeping track of all those characters and who they were connected to. It will certainly be keeping Mr McGregor on my "to read" list, he seems to be very perceptive about subtle and brief interactions between people.… (more)
LibraryThing member pgchuis
A 13 year old girl goes missing in a small Peak District village. Despite a widespread search, she is not found.

That description makes the novel sound like a murder mystery, but it is not at all.

SPOILERS

In fact, we never find out what happened to Rebecca. I am in two minds about whether this is a weakness or whether finding out would undermine the whole narrative. Certainly my immediate reaction, on reaching the last page, was that I had been conned!

END SPOILERS

The chapters describe the next 13 years in the life of the village; the villagers, the animals, nature. The villagers remember and wonder about the missing girl, but memories fade and newcomers to the village obviously feel differently. The farming/nature descriptions point up the rhythm and relentless passing of the seasons. (I started to skim these towards the end).

There was a very lulling, poetic feel to the narrative, which was told in a very consistent tone; that of an impartial observer. There was a slight feeling of detachment; even very terrible things were somewhat distanced and, in the context of the passing of time, probably of only passing importance. Nevertheless there was a lot of sympathy and understanding. I wondered a little at the excessive impact of the girl's disappearance on a community that didn't even know her. Would students, going away to university years later, really be identified so completely with the story?

I enjoyed this novel, but found it bizarre at the same time.
… (more)
LibraryThing member triscuit
Well-crafted writing, interesting start, but did not hold my interest. It is true that it captures the way life slowly goes on in the town, and I am not usually plot-driven, but I just didn’t care enough about any of the characters or the community.
LibraryThing member ozzer
In RESERVOIR 13, Jon McGregor teases us by presenting a familiar genre that slowly morphs into something completely different. A 13-year-old girl mysteriously vanishes without a trace while vacationing with her parents in a small village in Britain’s Peaks District. Neil Gaiman, in talking about genre fiction, tells us that “there’s a huge difference between, for example, a novel with spies in it and a spy novel; or a novel with cowboys in it and a cowboy novel.” “(T)here are things that people who like a genre are looking for in their fiction: the things that titillate, the things that satisfy.” In this instance, we need a search to turn up clues—possibly a body, an abundance of likely candidates for the crime, and a brilliant detective who eventually solves everything. McGregor plays with these motifs by dropping quite a few clues here and there but in fact has given us a novel with a mysterious disappearance in it, not a crime novel.

If you like genre fiction, RESERVOIR 13 will not be your cup of tea. However, if you appreciate a painterly depiction of a small isolated community dealing with the quotidian issues that people experience in their daily lives, this will be a satisfying reading experience. Much like the pointillist painters, McGregor gives us multiple small distinct daubs of color that illuminate a larger image of village life and the rhythms of its natural environment. These resolve into thirteen coherent portraits, one for each year after the disappearance of Rebecca. One sees how the disappearance dominates for a short time, but quickly recedes into the background leaving only the subtlest of scars that never seem to fully heal.

After observing a search for a missing child, McGregor came to realize “that if you were part of such a search, you’d start off feeling very focused, but sooner or later you’d inevitably let your guard down, start getting distracted by the fact your feet are wet, or that you’ve got to go back and feed the cows.” This thought serves as the basis for his exploration of how people contend with tragic events and manage to go on. The setting is isolated and circumscribed—almost claustrophobic. The omniscient narrator briefly focuses on individuals in the community and events in the natural environment. McGregor evokes the passage of time and familiarity through repetition, embellishing each story slowly in succeeding chapters but rhythmically repeating words, phrases, and events. Each begins with an identical line: “At midnight when the year turned,” In effect, each year serves as a reservoir for these stories, giving the title its meaning. Seasons come and go; people marry and separate; children are born and grow up; some die; some succeed and others fail; some are kind and other are not. Throughout, Rebecca is always a ghostly presence. “Dreams were had about her, still…walking home. Walking beside the motorway, walking across the moor, walking up out of one of the reservoirs.”

Clearly, McGregor is selling something he realizes many people may not ever want to buy—a novel about the dignity of human existence and the passage of time. Thus his marketing strategy is quite clever— to tease us with the need to find out what happened to Rebecca. Indeed, it would spoil the fun to reveal if we ever do learn what happened to Rebecca.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Eyejaybee
I wonder whether the literati have gone a little bit overboard about this novel. I certainly found it engrossing and well written (although I couldn't say I enjoyed it - whatever else this novel might be, I don't think it is exactly 'enjoyable'), and it adopted an unusual and enlightening perspective on an unpleasant crime. I am not sure, however, that I could go quite so far as critic George Saunders, who described it as 'a rare and dazzling feat of art' or The Guardian, where it was dubbed, 'an extraordinary achievement'.

The story surrounds the disappearance of Rebecca Shaw, a teenage girl who went missing while on holiday with her family in an unspecified locality 'at the heart of England'. A tragic, and sadly all too familiar a scenario. McGregor certainly captures the bleakness of the situation excellently, and also portrays the impact upon the local community. While everyone rallies around to help with the search for the missing girl, life does also go on, and as time goes by a sense of resentment grows among the locals. After all, everyone now remains under suspicion, and the village struggles to slough off its association with the disappearance.

McGregor's style has a starkness that becomes oppressive (and potential readers should perhaps be aware that there is no shred of light relief, at all), yet suits the bleak nature of the story. It also matches the landscape. This is a working countryside, not one of bucolic rhapsody, in which farmers and local businesses struggle to make a living, and the distractions and disruptions arising from the search for the missing girl only add to the bleakness and despair of life.
… (more)
LibraryThing member JBD1
Pretty dark, and there was a real danger that the style would get repetitive, but McGregor pulls it off.
LibraryThing member asxz
Astonishing. This is a remarkable book that uses the tragic disappearance of a 13 year old girl as a stepping off point for tracing the lives of an entire community through 13 years. It's not about unraveling an individual mystery, but more about revealing both the mysteries and mundanities of ordinary lives. Filled with tiny moments of love, misunderstanding, disappointment and satisfaction, this is an immensely human novel. I read it in a day and I think it's marvelous.… (more)
LibraryThing member camharlow2
The book starts with the disappearance of a visiting teenage girl on New Year’s Eve from a small village in the area of the Yorkshire/Lancashire borer. This event colours the lives of the village inhabitants and the girl’s parents as we follow the course of their lives over the next thirteen years. McGregor intersperses scenes form the villagers’ lives and their work with descriptions of the changing rhythms of the seasons and the wildlife during this period. This accumulation and his quiet, but stylish prose charts how the inhabitants change in response to the disappearance but also describes how their interrelationships alter over the course of the years. Altogether, these descriptions and observations make for a mesmerising flow to the passage of time.… (more)
LibraryThing member alexrichman
As someone who's never liked The Archers, I was quite surprised to have enjoyed this so much, as it's full of soapy village gossip. I loved the structure, with every chapter giving us a year in the life of the community, paragraphs practically alternating between the residents and the natural world around them. Halfway through, I was hoovering this up and fully expecting it to be a 5-star favourite, but - without spoiling anything - it left me a little unsatisfied. That said, it was very, very good while it lasted.… (more)
LibraryThing member RandyMetcalfe
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.
… (more)

Pages

304

ISBN

1936787709 / 9781936787708
Page: 0.2868 seconds