Reservoir 13 is definitely one of my standout reads of 2017. It’s one of those beautifully written novels that quietly implants scenes in your memory that you can recall at will. There is a gorgeous fluidity to the writing that makes you forget that you are reading, as you’re drawn into the lives of the people impacted by the disappearance of a 13 year-old girl – known as Rebecca, Becky or Bex.
I loved how McGregor captures the slight sense of disconnection that people feel when they’re trying to make sense of something disturbing, in the short, punchy sentence structure of the opening chapter. There’s a quiet resonance to the chapters that follow, as McGregor delves into the shadow life of each villager, never staying with one for long but giving each enough time so that you have a sense of who they are, how they think and how the unresolved disappearance of the girl has infiltrated aspects of their lives and how it hasn’t.
There are those who thrive on the gossip surrounding the disappearance and those who don’t. A ever present sense of threat pervades the writing, which is only natural when the pattern of life has been disrupted by a significant event, this too is reflected in the natural world where other kinds of predators target the vulnerable wildlife. Life evolves, changes and moves on and continues to follow the seasonal cycles, despite every disruption and every moment of desolation and loss.
Reservoir 13 is a novel that strips away the illusions of safety and confronts you with the reality of constantly living with the unknown. How this reality has to be suppressed at times so you can continue to function and how sometimes that suppression can explode into behaviours that appear unusual, unpredictable or unexpected on the surface, but which are completely understandable one you know a person’s history.
If you come to this novel expecting a standard plot structure for a mystery you will be disappointed, but if you come to it with an expectation that you will learn something new about the human experience as a result of living with an unresolved situation, you will be richly rewarded.
Jon McGregor has written 15 prequel stories to Reservoir 13 – The Reservoir Tapes, which have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and which are set to be released as a book on 28 December. I’ve already placed my order.
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.
But the aftershocks of Becky Shaw’s disappearance have origins long before then, and those in the village have losses, and secrets, and stories of their own…
A woman remembers a son’s inexperience – and a father’s rage; a young wife pushes against the boundaries of her marriage, whilst an older one finds ways to ensure the survival of hers. A hunt for a birthday present takes an alarming turn, and a teenage game grows serious.
Fresh hurts open old wounds, salvation comes from unexpected quarters and chance encounters release long-buried memories.
First broadcast as a series of specially-commissioned stories on BBC Radio 4, The Reservoir Tapes returns to the territory of the Booker-longlisted Reservoir 13, revealing the web of connections that bind us, and the many layers on which we all build our truths.
I bought my copy of Reservoir 13 during the book launch at the Nottingham Contemporary.