Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13


I've just read, twice--and I could start again tonight--a remarkable novel by Jon McGregor, a young British writer. It's called Reservoir 13, and I heard about it through one of James Wood's New Yorker reviews (Wood mentions it again in a Christmas issue, as one of 2017's overlooked books.) It sounded to me immediately like a book I would want to read, and it was and is.

It's a low key book, set in a nameless village in the north of England (Manchester must be nearby), with a cast of villagers (shopkeepers, sheep farmers, holiday house renters, a potter, a pastor, two school teachers, some high school students...), none of whom is 'the main character,' because there are no main characters: it's an equal opportunity book, in which weather, trees and plants, foxes, badgers, the local river, the hills, home to sheep and hikers, and 13 rather ominous reservoirs and some caves also figure. Life goes on over 13 years, after the one notable event, which is the disappearance of a teenage visitor while out hiking with her parents (she never turns up). The girl's disappearance is alluded to in each of the 13 chapters, along with other mundane events (sheep shearing, planting in the allotments, marriages, births and separations). All these things run together, largely indifferentiated, in an understated, but lyrical prose. Sometimes a few more sentences are devoted to one character or family. The remarkable thing is how interested one becomes in the life of this community and its environment, and in the writing.  I think the book is a remarkable achievement, in its way, flawless, but beautiful, and unusual. As I say, I read it twice, and I'm ready to begin again. It is also the sort of book you can dip into anywhere and read a few pages.