Reservoir 13 was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize (and won a bunch of other awards) and I can see why that would be the case.
The book’s structure is repetitive, but not boring—each chapter covers a year in a small village where a young girl, almost a teen has gone missing somewhere in the hills. Author Jon McGregor starts each chapter with a description of the new year’s celebration and incorporates details that clearly demonstrate the months passing: “It was a good year for sweet chestnuts, and in the woods on the estate the spiny husks spread open underfoot.”
A few more sentences in, after the time of year is set, the characters start to slide in and out. “At the school there were UCAS sessions and James and Rohan and Lynsey and Sophie started talking about moving away.”
Some of the details are more chilling: a sweater belonging to the missing girl; the divers looking for her in the reservoirs.
The writing is descriptive, and strangely soothing. Jon McGregor writes the environment of the village where it takes place so beautifully for every season you can almost smell the air, or the leaves, or the flowers. “In September a soft rain no more than a mist hung in the trees along the valley floor.”
But this beautiful environment hoards a lot of secrets: secrets between the villagers, between family members, between friends, and the biggest secret of all: what happened to Rebecca Shaw?
The reader feels more like a fly on the wall of the village, catching glimpses of things, but never the whole picture, and never all at once. The writing style drives home the point that no matter how horrific something is, life goes on around the event. Flowers bloom, children get older, it rains, couples split up, businesses fail, children are born, relationships start, careers change.
It’s a hard book to summarize because the plot expands or contracts and changes as we catch up with the characters each year. It’s more about the small things in life, as much as it is about a missing girl. It was a very melancholy read and reminded me that time is ephemeral and passes far too quickly.
Jon McGregor was at Events 71 (Plentiful Portraits), 84 (Getting a Grip) and 92 (The Afternoon Tea) of the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.