Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

A troubled village over thirteen years: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

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Reservoir 13 is a surprising novel which charts the rhythms of life in a distinctive prose style, letting seasons rise and fall and people’s lives ebb and flow through the pages of the book. A teenage girl goes missing whilst on holiday in a hilly village in England and the whole area is called in to help look for her. However, the searching is not fruitful, and meanwhile the villagers’ lives must go on, their personal dramas, crops, hopes, and dreams. Thirteen years pass, with the memory of the missing girl still lingering over the village.

The style of the novel takes a moment to settle into, with the narrative voice quickly moving between villagers and short sections denoting chunks of time. Once settled in, though, it finds a rhythm that gets across the idea of everyday life going on in this place where something terrible happened, a kind of relentless moving forward at a mundane pace. The characters, like a real community, vary a lot and many stay fairly mysterious throughout, but there are a great number of small details in their lives picked up by the narrative as part of the tapestry of the village. What is perhaps most notable is the way in which, like in real life, people can disappear entirely from the story when they move away, or only return for brief visits, showing great change in comparison to the more constant progression of those who stay in the village.

Despite the missing girl concept, what McGregor has most memorably done is find a style that captures a community changing over thirteen years, whilst being something interesting to read. Reservoir 13 is an understated book in many ways, with drama often played out in a passing way and moved on from as it would in real life, but also a very literary novel in an unusual style without dialogue.