Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Review published on September 22, 2017.

I was staggered to find this was not added to the recent Man Booker Short List as it’s a stunning novel that seeps right into your mind and envelops you with what might ordinarily be mundane lives.

At an unspecified time (although teenagers seem less obsessed with mobile phones) and in an unspecified village (although McGregor lives in Nottingham and the scenery evokes the nearby Peak District) locals are suddenly searching for a missing girl – Rebecca/Becky/Bex.

She was on holiday with her parents in a cottage (like many others in the village) used as holiday lets when the mystery of her disappearance highlights the village and its inhabitants in the glare of publicity.

Steadily, McGregor unpeels the layers of the village through the changes of the seasons and the yearly traditions of village life. But capturing and sustaining the past makes many suspicious.
Is there a potential suspect living amongst them? Are the usual characteristics of people previously seen as odd now dangerous?

The wonderful atmosphere of rural life with the weather, the scenery and the animals and birds is not just idealised as we explore the difficulties and poverty of rural life and its often oppressive way of alienating people who in a town would happily survive.

There is no main character but there are many individuals with their families and their lives all circulating and perhaps trying to escape from the ominous reminder of the tragedy that shaped their village. There are stories of family, love, illness, friendship alongside jealousy, hatred and rejection.

Although there is a crime at the start this is not a whodunit. It is an exploration of how humans close to the scene of sadness can experience shock but then learn to live beyond the tragedy that first draws them together. It is a prose calendar of a read.

It is my best personal read this year and I think it would be a good one to challenge book groups.

Philipa Coughlan 5/4

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Fourth Estate 9780008204853 hbk Apr 2017

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