Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor


I was very much looking forward to reading Jon McGregor’s latest novel, Reservoir 13, having attended the launch event last month which piqued my interest. Regular readers of my blog may recall I have recently purchased McGregor’s backlist to read through of which I have already enjoyed So Many Ways To Begin. But with Reservoir 13 I was particularly excited, having heard such great things about it, and I wasn’t disappointed!

‘They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do. It was cold and there was little conversation. There were questions that weren’t being asked. The missing girls name was Rebecca Shaw.’

Reservoir 13 tells the story of a rural community following the disappearance of a teenage girl. on her holiday. Whilst visiting on her holiday, thirteen year old Rebecca Shaw vanished into the hills never to be seen again. The villagers were quick to rally round and help with the search, desperate to find out where Rebecca went, if she was safe, and if she would return. But despite their efforts the girl is not found, and whilst doubts still remain over the circumstances of her disappearance, life in the village goes on, as it must. Each of the books thirteen chapters describes a year in the life of the village and its people, along with the surrounding wildlife and landscape. Each of these years begins in much the same way, the New Year celebrations, the dance in the village hall and the sound of distant fireworks. But each New Year brings new things – births, deaths and marriages, relationships formed and broken, businesses closing, new opportunities arising. And in addition to these significant events which alter the course of an individual’s life, there are also those everyday things that are crucial to rural life as a whole. We see the regular routines and challenges involved in farming, and the impact it has on those farmers and the wider community. And alongside all this there are the troubling memories of Rebecca Shaw, and the feeling that someone in the village must have seen her, and there may secrets still to expose.

‘There were dreams about her walking home. Walking beside the motorway, walking across the moor, walking up out of one of the reservoirs, rising from the dark grey water with her hair streaming and her clothes draped with long green weeds.’

When I finished reading this book, I started to think about how I would review it but it is hard to find the words that will do it justice. The more I read, the more I regretted not reading any of McGregor’s work sooner. This is a wonderfully written book which tells the story of many lives and how they change over the years, how they are influenced by the events that take hold over an entire community. There are so many characters in this novel, but each one is perfectly formed and developed. McGregor has a skill to his writing in which just a sentence can tell a story, providing a fascinating glimpse into a character’s life. It is though there is not a single word out of place, each section of writing perfectly formed to tell the reader just enough. We see the ups and downs of life – love and loss, secrets and betrayal, hope and friendship. Another thing I loved about this book was the depiction of the surrounding landscape and the wildlife within it. And as cliché as it may sound, the changing environment is almost a character in itself. With each chapter detailing events from throughout the year, the reader gets to see the changing seasons, the way the landscape alters and how this in turn affects the daily lives of the villagers. We see the plants that grow, the birds that take flight and the fox cubs preparing to leave their den. The natural rhythm of nature in all its beauty and complexity. The novels structure does mean there is a repetition of certain details throughout but I personally liked this as I got to know the village setting better and was able to note the subtle changes to life for its inhabitants through the year. As the years passed by I remained enthralled by the beautiful writing, and the way it perfectly evoked the complexity of human life through the years.

‘They had wanted to find her. They had wanted to know she was safe. They had felt involved, although they barely knew her.’

I thoroughly enjoyed Reservoir 13 and found it to be an expertly written tale of a village living in the aftermath of a tragedy. It successfully evokes the image of a rural community and the people who shape it. It shows the many ways in which humans adapt and change over the years, the resilience, and how certain events can linger long in the memory, and change the way we view the world in which we live.

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