BOOK REVIEW: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

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From the award winning and critically acclaimed author of ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’, ‘So Many Ways to Begin’, ‘Even the Dogs’ and ‘This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You’ comes the extraordinary novel ‘Reservoir 13’.

McGregor without wasting any time draws you into this story like the oncoming summer draws from hibernation sleepy bears from their caves. Jon McGregor has a mastery over observational writing of both nature and the human condition that as a reader are automatically drawn into the genesis of this richly woven story. A story of a young girl’s disappearance in the Peak District and how this affects the villager’s lives showing they are a part of a bigger piece of work that McGregor aids us exploring in intricate and intimate detail.

The novel and McGregor’s outstanding eye for detail are what instantly drew me into the story. Eleven years ago, I’d gone on holiday with my in-laws to the Lake District, we enjoyed our time there, walking every day, drinking whisky in the evenings, all tucked away in a small cottage on the outskirts of a tiny town, I even proposed to my wife (well fiancé at the time) whilst we were there near a waterfall. One day we drove over to another small town in the next valley and when getting out of the car we noticed that the car next to us had various stickers, plastered all over the car like parking tickets. When I looked more closely they were from the local town or policing team.

– You Have Been Missing for Two Days Please Call (a number) When You Return We Are Looking For You –

The whole town got behind it, it was on the local radio, was the talk of the local pub and we had heard many walkers talking about it on our journeys. One day we heard helicopters, there were rumors of finding the man, but that is all they were. We left a few days later with the person’s whereabouts unknown, leaving the town to deal with the fallout. I followed the news for a while once we got back home but soon forgot – when reading ‘Reservoir 13’ I could not help but make those comparisons which is why I feel it had such a strong effect on me whilst reading it.

‘Reservoir 13’ is ostensibly about a small village in the Peak District gripped by the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl called Rebecca and the towns struggles in that first year of trying to find her and the subsequent years that followed. McGregor in my opinion is a master at being able to bring to life a character within his stories in a fleeting moment, in a short paragraph you’re able to catch glimpses into a character that form your views, thoughts and feelings for them – which help them to become such three-dimensional creations; and within a book like this with so many moving parts it’s a bonus.

‘He’d never talked about the future at all. There was no need. He just kept working in his father’s timber yard after school, while his shoulders got broader, his hands rougher, his wallet fatter. Everyone knew he would inherit the yard once his father retired. It was sort of certainty, Richard had realized later, that some people found attractive. He looked at Cathy now, walking on ahead, her stride long and effortless between the trees. He wondered if she was thinking about any of this. It seemed unlikely.’

As I touched on above ‘Reservoir 13’ has a large collection of characters – following Rebecca’s disappearance the first intervening chapters focus on her mother and father and the police; but as the year progresses McGregor starts to introduce the townsfolk into the mix and McGregor reveals the storytelling arc, structure and prose that form an absorbing journey that is as profound as it is excellent. Even with so many characters, McGregor is still able to write deep and meaningful people into his wonderful story; I don’t believe that there is one character that is under developed or any wasted words in this entire book – which is a statement in itself.

The structure of ‘Reservoir 13’ is repetitive, with each chapter starting on New Year’s Eve; so, the reader experiences a journey through the seasons each chapter described in such clarity and vivid imagery it can sometimes take your breath away. McGregor can take the mundane in life and transform it into something of true beauty; like a chrysalis metamorphosing into a butterfly, the dullness and bleakness of life are transformed into technicolor by the mastery he holds over the written word and his visionary mind. Having said all this; towards the end of the novel which unfolds over a decade since Rebecca’s disappearance, despite all the wonderfully tight and intricate writing, imagery and development of characters I did find myself living a kind of Groundhog Day with no end in sight; it was becoming to repetitive for my liking and my concentration began to lapse and there was no Bill Murray in sight.

I loved the character development with each proceeding year such as births, deaths, marriages, affairs, bankruptcy, businesses closing, villagers moving out, misspent youth, coming of age and the recurring story of our missing Rebecca – it is a tirade of human emotions and the evolution of a village; exploring the human condition under a microscope.

‘On Mischief Night a large group of older teenagers from Cardwell somehow managed to lift the entire bus shelter and carry it halfway up the side of the moor. The next day there were pictures of it all over Facebook, and it took the Jackson boys half the morning to bring it back down. Questions were asked about where the youngsters had even got their hands on an angle-grinder, and why no one had heard it being used. Irene said it reminded her of the time her late husband had hidden an entire dairy herd, as a young man. The story was familiar, she was told.’

‘Reservoir 13’ is a truly brilliant idea and not like anything else, I have ever read. The book starts out as a story about a girl that has gone missing, and in looking for this missing girl, we find a community of people whom I grew to love and I hope you do too. ‘Reservoir 13’ is a beautifully written book which you should enjoy in the slow and absorbing pace it is written in which I feel compliments the exquisitely genuine characters and the spotlight on village life in the Peak District. For me I found it quite repetitive – but you need to persevere to allow the true brilliance of the book to hit home!

One other exciting thing about ‘Reservoir 13’ is that on the copy I received had a note in the front detailing that McGregor will be returning to this world in the summer of 2017 to bring us a Radio 4 – 15-part prequel series of short stories: The Reservoir Tapes which will be published by 4th Estate in the Autumn of 2017.

I for one will be watching this development with excitement!

Jon McGregor

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Jon McGregor is a British author who has written three novels. His first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things was nominated for the 2002 Booker Prize, and was the winner of both the Betty Trask Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award in 2003. So Many Ways to Begin was published in 2006 and was on the Booker prize long list. Even the Dogs was published in 2010 and his newest work, Reservoir 13 is due in April, 2017.


Reservoir 13 will be published by Fourth Estate on 6th April 2017.

You can purchase a copy of Reservoir 13 from Foyles and Waterstones:



To discover more about Fourth Estate Books click here


Review by Ross Jeffery


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