Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Reservoir 13 Jon McGregor‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor begins with the disappearance of Rebecca Shaw, a thirteen-year-old girl who goes missing while on holiday with her family in the Peak District in the early 2000s. In the years that pass following her disappearance, the various residents of the small rural village get on with their lives, but the mystery of what happened to Rebecca continues to have an impact on the tight-knit community.

McGregor is an author who is new to me and his fifth novel published earlier this year has been longlisted for several major literary awards including the Man Booker Prize, the Goldsmiths Prize and, most recently, the Costa Novel Award. At first glance, the scenario presented at the beginning of ‘Reservoir 13’ appears to be the archetypal “missing girl” plot of so many crime TV dramas and novels from the past decade or so. Readers expecting a straightforward whodunnit with a neat conclusion will probably be disappointed, but I was pleasantly surprised by McGregor’s playfulness with genre conventions which he has pulled off with great effect. It made me realise how fixed my expectations have become in terms of how such narratives are typically structured and resolved, and it was refreshing to read a novel which completely turned this idea on its head.

The number 13 holds some significance – there are 13 reservoirs in the area and each of the 13 chapters is set over a year in the life of the village since the 13-year-old girl’s disappearance. McGregor’s spare prose eschews standard dialogue and has a timeless quality with specific dates or places rarely indicated, although there are clues that ‘Reservoir 13’ is set in the early years of this century with the presence of social media gradually increasing along with signs of how the rural way of life is in creeping decline. There is a large cast of characters – perhaps a few too many in that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of all of the residents’ connections to each 0ther – but the atmosphere of a community gradually coming to terms with the disappearance is quietly affecting, with this significant event remaining in the background of so many people’s lives for so many years. The lyrical descriptions of the natural world and seasonal changes in the countryside drift seamlessly alongside the villagers’ preoccupations, emphasising the endless ebb and flow of big and small events over time as life goes on for everyone.

’Reservoir 13’ is a subtle and surprising novel which turned out to be far more inventive than I had initially expected. I will definitely be seeking out more of McGregor’s work in the future.


Filed under Books

28 responses to “Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

  1. Katrina

    I really enjoyed this book


  2. Lovely to hear that Jon McGregor has made another convert! This one’s my book of the year.


  3. Each chapter also contains only 13 paragraphs.


  4. This is a novel which has been on my radar for sometime, partly because I know the area where it is set and know too just how close and closed some of those communities can be. I was hoping it would turn up on one of my book group lists but it doesn’t look as if that is going to be the case so I’d better do something about it myself.


  5. I don’t read much in this genre but after seeing this book pop up on so many ‘Best of 2017’ lists, I’m thinking I might have to give it a go.


  6. I am so glad you liked this book. JM was shortlisted for the Booker in 2002 or 3 for his novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things which is where I first discovered his writing. You describe it as lyrical, which is the perfect word for his prose. I know that some of his critics find his lack of focus a problem, but that it because they have often missed the essential structure, as in Reservoir 13, the replication of the reservoirs, the chapters and the months of the year.
    I liken him to Robert MacFarlane – both observers of nature, of change and of fragility. I do hope this is the year Jon wins something.


  7. I LOVE Jon McGregor, his writing style just slays me. His ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ is one of my favourite books of all time.


  8. Thanks, sounds like something I would really enjoy


  9. Looking forward to letting this wash over me – the reviews I’ve read suggest that immersing yourself in its atmosphere is the best way to read it.


  10. i am glad you enjoyed it,i bought three from this years Booker list none of them made through 😀


  11. Just finished reading Reservoir 13 so was waiting to read your review! If you enjoyed the way the story unfolded, I agree with others that you must get If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things: it’s one street not a whole village but the way the characters’ lives connect or not is spellbinding.


  12. Annabel (gaskella)

    I struggled with his first novel, and haven’t dared since. Maybe, with Res 13, now I’m ready to appreciate his fine prose.


  13. I have this one next on my tbr pile! Can’t wait to get to it. Right now I am reading Day of Judgement by Heath Daniels. It’s been a good read, a fiction that reads very true.


  14. Hmm. I am intrigued by your review. I am going to have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Rathbones Folio Prize: Q&A with Richard Lloyd Parry | A Little Blog of Books

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