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review 2017-12-29 04:55
Review: Reservoir 13
Reservoir 13: A Novel - Jon McGregor

Imagine you're going to a party. Maybe parties aren't your thing, but come along anyway. It's a social gathering, mostly just standing around, drink in hand, talking with one another. You're new to town. You know no one. The host grabs ahold of you and introduces you to the other guests. Most of the town is there. Your host, we'll just call him Jon, drags you to a group standing in the kitchen. “This is Jane,” he might say, “she's the vicar at our local church. And this is Su, she and her husband Andrew are expecting twins.” Jon will introduce you to each guest that's present. Some he'll spend a few minutes talking with, others he'll quickly introduce you to and move on. Some will talk about other residents who are missing from the party. At the end of the evening, you'll have been given the names of forty or more villagers and brief stories about each. How much will you remember the following day? What was it that Martin did for a profession? What had Mr. Wilson said? What do you remember?

If you're like me, you probably only remember two or three things from that party. I would likely recall one or two of the most interesting people. I might recall the story one of them told me. I might remember the name of an attractive face. And I'd remember the host. Outside of these things, I will remember none of the details. So when Jon calls the next evening and tells me about what happened between James and Liam, Jones, Miss Dale, whomever, I will have no idea who he's talking about.

That is the structure of Reservoir 13 and part of the problem for readers such as myself. Sure, there are those who go to a party and can recall eighty or ninety percent of what they've been told. They never forget a name or a face. Those people will probably have a much easier time with this story. Me, I was struggling chapter by chapter trying to remember anything about the person from the previous chapters.

Reservoir 13 is without a primary character. It's a story about a town, and I love that. But in each chapter, representing another year passed, we're only given a couple sentences or a few paragraphs about each character. I couldn't keep it straight. And so, while a few remained in my memory from chapter one, others may have not made an impact until I got to know them better around chapter seven or eight. Others never made an impact, and though they were important throughout the novel, by the book's final chapter I honestly had no idea who they were. This can obviously make for a very frustrating read.

Reservoir 13 is a beautiful depiction of a village and all that happens around it. Perhaps the only character of relevance to this story is the town itself. There's some really great writing throughout, but those looking for a thread of a story or of characters they can bond with will struggle to make it all the way through. I struggled through to the end, recognizing the intelligence and beauty of this story and I wish I could've loved it, but I merely appreciate it for the talent shown. In a matter of weeks, I'll have forgotten all but what I remember from that party the very first night. It's not the fault of the host or of the town. It's my own. But one cannot discount that there are many others such as myself at the party and amongst the readers.

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review 2017-08-25 22:34
"Reservoir 13" by Jon McGregor - on 2017 Mann Booker Longlist
Reservoir 13: A Novel - Jon McGregor

I found "Reservoir 13" hard to engage with at first. This partly the (I suspect, deliberate) frustration of my expectations and partly the style in which the people and events are presented.


The blurb says

"Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family's loss."

The book opens with a search across the hills of an English National Park, for a teenage girl who has gone missing. My genre-led expectations kicked in and I settled down to a book about crime and guilt and secrets in a small village, with the mystery solved in a few weeks, during which colourful local characters and traditions are scrutinised and set aside as the villain is uncovered.  I knew that the book was on the Mann Booker Longlist, so I was expecting some trope twisting but I wasn't expecting something that rejects every convention of a crime novel.


I quickly amended my view of what the book was about but still found it difficult to care about because the story is told in an authorial voice that reports what little dialogue there is, rather than using direct speech and describes people and events with all the passion of an academic wildlife study.


I felt that I was being given a pencil sketch sprinkled with small details highlighted in colour for reasons that weren't immediately clear to me. 


I recognised that I was being shown the rhythm of rural village life where people's lives are governed by the seasons, personal routines and the politenesses required by long-term propinquity but the rhythms did not provide a narrative thrust.


I felt locked out of the inner thoughts or emotions of the people. The authorial voice seemed to have all the intimacy of a camera drone filming a landscape:  all-seeing but from an alien non-human perspective.


About a third of the way through, I finally surrendered myself to the rhythm of the book and let it carry me along.  It reminded me of the adjustment in pace that I had to make when I moved to a village in Somerset after living for years in London. I had to slow down to see the place. I had to let it absorb me before I could be part of it.


"Reservoir 13" shows how life is lived in a village. As thirteen years worth of seasons passed, I was given a surface view of all the things that people in a small village know about each other: the gossip, the constant observation of each others acts and the things they don't say or don't ask. I cam to understand how the politeness of being indirect grants dignity and privacy while still offering the possibility of sharing the things you cannot bear alone.


Initially, direct speech was less frequent than descriptions of wildlife or weather but, as the years passed and the context had been established, I was allowed to hear certain conversations and evesdrop on interior monologues.


The people in the village are following the same tidal flows as the wildlife around them and, just as Il earned about the courtship of badgers in the woods, I was shown that most human mating rituals are led by women and conducted through body language and eye contact more than words.


Some characters found their way into my affections: the vicar, carrying around everyone's cares and confidences, like heavy stones in her pockets, who brings comfort and compassion wherever she goes; the woman who walks her neighbour's dog every day but still treats each time as if it were something new.


The missing girl is not the centre of the book but rather something that distorts the flow of village life without adding to it, She is like a water-logged piece of driftwood that only occasionally surfaces but is always there, disturbing the peace of the water.


She has her own leitmotiv that often marks her appearance


 "The girl's name was Rebecca or Becky or Beks. She had been looked for and she hadn't been found."


She is a constant reminder of the possibility of loss and perhaps and incentive to hold on to those we love for as long as we can.


"Reservoir 13" has a distinct voice and an unusual structure that did, eventually, imprint the village on my imagination and made me reluctant to leave. The narrative doesn't thrust, it shapes your perception of people and events with gentle persistence, like a stream eroding one bank and building up another.
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text 2017-08-20 09:35
"Reservoir 13" by Jon McGregor - on 2017 Mann Booker Longlist - this is not going well
Reservoir 13: A Novel - Jon McGregor

From the description this sounds like a crime book - teenage girl goes missing on the hills above a small village - doubt - suspicion - secrets - yet it's on the Mann Book Longlist so I was expecting something with a twist.


I wasn't expcting something so difficult to engage with.


The story is told in an authorial voice that reports what little diaglogue there is rather than using direct speech.  The narration is a dispassionate description of events with all the passion of a more academic wildlife study.


This is mostly a pencil sketch sprinkled with small details highlighted in colour for no apparent reason.


There is a  focus on time passing and routines like seasons governing people's lives that gives the book a pleasant rhythm without providing any narrative thrust.


No access to the inner thoughts or emotions of the people. It has all the intimacy of a

camera drone filming a landscape:  all-seeing but from an alien non-human perspective.


I suspect the author is trying to do something new with form and that I should be delighted that he is eschewing the conventions of the genre. Instead, at more than an hour in to and eight hour book, I am still wondering what will make this book worth reading.

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review 2017-08-14 10:10
A contemplative look at the life of a village for those who love a different kind of writing.
Reservoir 13: A Novel - Jon McGregor

Thanks to NetGalley and to Haper Collins UK Fourth State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I had never read one of Jon McGregor’s novels before but I was curious by the description of this novel and more curious when I saw it had been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The biography of the author intrigued me even more and I finally managed to read the book.

The book starts with the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old girl, a visitor holidaying, with her parents, to a village in Britain (not too distant from Manchester and also near enough to Leeds and Sheffield for those cities to make appearances, so probably in the general area where I live). Despite a large search party and much publicity and community effort, the girl does not appear. At first, everything is stopped: Council meetings, Christmas celebrations, the lives of her parents who remain in the village for a long time. Slowly, things go back to almost normal, with only the anniversary of her disappearance as a reminder that something tragic happened there. Life returns to its natural rhythms. There are births, deaths, people get married, separate, get new jobs, are made redundant, people move into the village and out, cricket matches are lost (mostly), the weather is very wet, and occasionally dry, the reservoirs are checked, the quarries exploited or not, there are pantomimes, well-dressing, Mischief nights, birds come and go, clocks go back and forth, foxes are born, bats hibernate, crimes are committed, crops harvested, farm animals looked after…

The novel (if it is a novel) is a slice of the life of the community of that village. The story is told in the third person from an omniscient point of view, and one that seems to be an objective observer that peeps into people’s heads (and observes animals) but without becoming over involved with feelings, just describing what people might think, but not going any further than that. The style of writing is peculiar, and perhaps not suited to everybody’s taste. There are very beautiful sentences and a particular rhythm to the paragraphs, which are not divided according to the different characters’ points of view or stories and can go from weather to animals to a person’s actions. Each anniversary of the girl’s disappearance marks a new year, but, otherwise, there is little to differentiate what happens, other than the chronology and the passing of time for the characters, the houses, and the village itself.

There are no individual characters that have a bigger share of the limelight. We have the youngsters, who had known the missing girl, and we follow them, but we also follow the female priest, the teachers at school, several farmers, a potter, the newspaper editor and his wife, the school keeper and his sister… We get to know a fair bit about each one of them but not at an emotional level, and we become observers too, rather than putting ourselves in the place of the characters to share their feelings and thoughts. It makes for a strange reading experience, and not one everybody will enjoy. It is as if we were supposed to let the words wash over us and explore a different way of reading, pretty much like the passing of life itself.

There is no resolution (there isn’t in life either) and I have read quite a few reviews where readers were disappointed as they kept reading waiting for some sort of final reveal that never comes. We are used to classic narratives with beginning, middle, and end, and being confronted by a different kind of structure can make us uncomfortable. This novel reminded me, in some ways, of the film The Tree of Life directed by Terrence Malick, although in that case, the story was more circumscribed and here it is more choral (and less involved).  Reviewers who know McGregor’s previous work are not in agreement about this novel, as some feel it shows a development of his style and is the best of his yet, whilst others prefer some of his earlier work. My advice to those who have never read him would be to check a sample of the novel and see how they feel (although, remember that the earlier focus on the search for the girl dies down later). This is not a spoiler as the author has said saw in quite a few interviews and it is clear from the description that this is not a mystery novel.

In sum, this is a novel for people interested in new and post-modern writing, rather than for those looking for a conventional story. If you are annoyed by head hopping and strange writing techniques and like to find a clear ending, then stay away from it. If you enjoy meditation and savouring every moment and are prepared for a different type of reading, you might be in for a treat.  

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review 2017-08-12 00:00
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Vol. 3
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Vol. 3 - CLAMP,William Flanagan RTC
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