Thursday, 23 March 2017

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Book Review

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor - Reading, Writing, Booking Blog

"The missing girl's name was Rebecca Shaw. When last seen she'd been wearing a white hooded top."

Reservoir 13 will be released on 6th April. It is written by Jon McGregor and published by 4th Estate.

This was such an unexpected but interesting little book. That sounds really patronising but I don't mean it to. With a missing girl story line I thought the plot line of Reservoir 13 would focus on the police investigation, but instead author Jon McGregor looks at how this event effects the community of the village she went missing in. It's not really like anything I've read before. It's about ordinary people and everyday life, yet it celebrates the beauty of the mundane.

Here's the blurb:

From the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even the Dogs, Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family's loss.

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; fieldflare 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.

As I said before, Reservoir 13 is not really a crime novel; if you're expecting a thorough mystery with a satisfying ending then this is not for you. To be honest, that was what I was expecting and when I first realised this was not what Reservoir 13 was, I couldn't get on with it, especially as the prose moves so fast. But once I settled in I really loved it.

I've never read any other Jon McGregor before so I don't know if this is how he usually writes, but his prose was fast and almost skips from character to character, never staying on one story-line for too long. At first this was quite disorientating, however, once I got used to the pace I actually enjoyed it. You'd think he wouldn't be able to impart knowledge or build a character when writing with such fast prose, but he is brilliant at making a character come to life with only the smallest detail of their thought process or their actions.

McGregor also gradually reveals secrets and revelations about the characters.  It's very well managed and, as a writer myself, I marveled at his skill.

The pace of writing actually reflects the village life that this book is set around. I grew up in a village and I really recognised the general overview of village life; everyone knowing everyone else, community life focused around seasonal events (like harvest festival) and the village squabbles and politics, but then you scratch the surface and there are more secrets and depth.

The characters in Reservoir 13 are all interesting. At first some seem like typical village characters; the patriarch farmer, the meddling middle-aged woman and the bored teenagers. But McGregor fleshes them out and gradually reveals more about them and they become unique people that you're invested in.
McGregor dips in and out of their lives and shows how they grow and change over the thirteen years, touching on major life events as well as the everyday routines. It's sort of dramatic yet peaceful at the same time, he really captures how life carries on in a small community.

The writing, while fast, is beautiful and it is often focused around nature, the way country life is.

"The summer had been low with cloud but in September the skies cleared and the days were berry-bright and the mud hardened into ridges in the lanes."

I sped through this book and actually had to ration myself as I didn't want to finish it too fast. I suspect this speedy writing style won't be for everyone though. There are so many characters and the skimming prose can be a bit confusing at times.

Sometimes I felt McGregor rushed over what I thought were quite big plot points. Also, the ending left me with a lot more questions, so if you like everything to be tied up neatly Reservoir 13 may frustrate you.

However, give it a go, it's something a bit different and I really loved it.

My Rating: 4/5

I received a digital copy of Reservoir 13 via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to the author and publisher.

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