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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 2016-09-07 00:00
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Vol. 28
Tsubasa: RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE, Vol. 28 - CLAMP,William Flanagan I finally went ahead and read the final volume of Tsubasa. And no, I didn't read all the volumes because I watched the anime first and became lazy. But as most anyone who cares knows, the anime was pretty much abandoned and if you wanted to know what happened you had to go read the manga, which is gigantic. I read some chapters here and there but yesterday, for some reason, I had the sudden urge to know how it all ended and so I spent my evening reading the last volume.

WHAT THE HEEEEEEEELL. Man, does CLAMP know how to mess with your head. This was all sorts of messed up and I just kept having to take a moment and try to make sense of everything. Was all of that necessary? I don't know. But I can't say it didn't blow my mind.

I just wanted a happy ending for the babiiiies (all of them) and I guess I sort of... kinda... maybe got it? idk.

Now I'm off to read fanfiction.
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review 2014-08-05 06:29
Reservoir Dad - Clint Greagan

How do you write about sweetness without it sounding like schmuck? Or family life without it sounding boring? It's hard doing sweet. It can so easily go too far, so that instead of a delicious fairytale you get Disney, remanufactured so as to not scare the children and in the process shaking off important clumps of dirt that are meant to be psychological pointers. Fairytales are meant to be illustrated psyche-walks, where you play all the parts.


Caramel tastes best with salt. And this book is nothing like boring. It's the way fairytales are meant to be, with light, with a bit of dirt, with high-note sweet that aches, midline vanilla, and a few bottom notes of aching grief.


Reservoir Dad isn't a fairytale or a fable, though. It's a life. Five of them, joined together. Clint Greagen lives in Reservoir, in Melbourne's slightly-inner north. (When he asked what Reservoir was like as a place to live, the real estate agent told him, "It's getting better." Reservoir was once the sort of place that if you called it Reservoir, using the French pronunciation, you'd be laughed off for being a wanker. Melbourne house prices being what they are, though, these days old-school Reservoorians have migrated out further, to Craigieburn).


Clint and his wife, Tania, have bought their first house. Then, along comes Archie. Then Lewis. Then Tyson. And then Maki. Not long after Archie is born, they make the decision for Tania to return to her job as a physiotherapist and part-time lecturer and for Clint to take on the role as a stay-at-home dad. This book is the story of those days.


How refreshing that he recounts it with such honesty. I wonder, in broadly speaking terms (this caveat needs insertion when about to talk about gender), if Clint was a woman would he have deleted more of the times he's going nuts, the times he's losing it? Or, if he did, would he hang onto the guilt for as long as many women would? I know I'm generalising here, but these are some of the thoughts I wondered while reading Reservoir Dad.


It's a bloody funny read. Highlights of the Minutes of the Northern Dads' Group are illuminating:


11:20 - I make and transport fresh coffee to every Dad and listen in. The topics being covered by each group are as follows: Jack and Ben: global warming, backyard maintenance and sex; Dan and Joe: hangovers, kids, cricket, immunisations and sex; Kelvin and Simon: children's pop-up books, how great kids are and sex

12:00 - A child poos. All Dads present sniff their child's bum. Eventually the culprit is located and excluded from the group until the proper corrections have been made.

12:30 - The children and Dads all gather around Ekko to pat him and learn proper pet-handling behaviour. In his excitement the dog rolls over and, along with its belly, exposes a long lipstick-shaped penis. Ben's son reaches for it immediately. All the Dads freeze on the spot and scream in horror which, thankfully, shocks the dog back into an upright position.

12:45 - A hotly fought competition ensues between the three Dads and their children to see who can leap from the porch and land the furthest from the rose bushes.

12:46 - One hamstring says ping

There's some interesting stuff in here about the politics of stay-at-home dadding. Of those who speak down to him. Of how trailing around after your partner is home from work raving for 30 minutes straight is not so much a gender issue as it's a need-adult-convo-now issue.


On the stress and feeling of complete uselessness during Tania's labour to bring Archie into the world, and the appearance of the anaesthetist:


He wore blue pants and a blue shirt, just like the rest of the employees in the hospital, and in another building he may have even passed as an inmate in a low-security prison. But I'll always remember him as the man who entered the room standing atop two pure white draught horses, whose clip-clopping sent the message of hope down the halls and into every room of the birthing ward. He was wearing the purple and gold robes of kingly eminence. The dull, off-white walls around us sparkled with the magnificence of his crown. I rubbed the weariness from the muscular buttocks of his steeds and fed them the finest muesli as he honoured us both by slaying the monster I had only been able to wail at. As he took his leave from our lives I fell to one knee and whispered, 'My Liege.'

And on change-table Archie:


He defecates like a startled duck. He wees straight into the air almost every time I change his nappy, which is freaky to say the least, although I was surprisingly nonchalant when he jet-forced a sample taste - mid-stream strength - directly into my mouth.


He has a bulbous pot belly - a direct inheritance from Tania's dad - with light blue veins running over it like patterns on an ancient Greek milk jug, and when I combine that with the wide-open eyes rolling and jolting about in their mad search for focus, I am unable to stop my mind from playing random image association games ... here comes E.T. and Fat Albert on his spindly little legs saying, 'Hey hey hey!'

Self-deprecation and hyperbole are a delicious combination. Intersperse them with moments of pure, aching love and that very human emotion of wishing for things to last forever and this book has some heart-punching moments. On a bedtime conversation with Tyson, four:


I assumed he was mostly asleep and so I whispered, 'Luv ya, mate.'

From my vantage point behind him I saw his cheek rising with a smile.


'Why?' he said.


I was immediately overwhelmed by a sense of wonder and longing. In this dark room, on the bottom bunk, with the likelihood of another sleep-interrupted night ahead, came the prospector's pan rising above the surface of the stream, the glint of gold already visible.


It was the expectation I heard in his voice, I think, and his smile that made me aware of the opportunity to affirm something that would last a long time for the both of us - maybe forever. 'Just because I love you, mate,' I answered. 'And because you make us all laugh. And because you're such a great dancer ... especially to Gangnam Style. And because you jump so high. And because you use snappy crocodile fingers when you draw. And, do you know, when you're away at kinder I miss you so much and can't wait to see you again.'


And that was enough. As I watched him wriggle his head back and forth to reach further into the comfort of the pillow I was fully aware of how little time I had left. All the rooms Tania and I have filled will one day be empty. The beds of our children - those I often groan with exhaustion to climb into - will be gone.


Greagen has lovely-honed observation and poignancy. On Archie as a new baby:


His tongue creeps out past his lips, then draws back inside, then creeps out again, and I get a little glimpse of who he might be because it seems to ignite some curiosity. He holds still at first, enthralled by the slimy sensations firing around the edges of his mouth but when his tongue retreats he starts panting in his excitement to feel it again and harnesses the energy in his limbs just enough to make his elbows shudder like wings buffetted by a steady breeze. All the effort causes him to vomit a little, and as I wipe it away I panic: What if Tania and I are killed in an accident?

On a quickie with the wife:


... I've lain there afterwards, used and glowing, comparing her attitude and approach to that of a black widow spider, except that instead of eating me once she's finished she can just make a sandwich or open a packet of Cruskits.

Some funny moments comes from the eight months the family spend living with Tania's parents while they have their house rebuilt. Sexual frustration, the stress that comes with living in your in-laws house exacerbated by your now-four children taking over? Leads to paranoia. And murderous intent. Living in close quarters with someone, everything grates. When it's your mother-in-law, tripled that. This is why you put her tongs in the dishwasher - you know it will drive her crazy and keep you sane. It's only right when she insists on stirring her early-morning coffee so that it "sounds like she's pushed a woodpecker's head into the cup and shoved a finger up its arse."

Clint never shies away from the stress and mind-boggling craziness and the relentless, boring grind of raising kids ... or the way the love pours in and melts his heart all over again. The way the love is so strong that it holds back the desire to do harm, to go bonkers. It's refreshing. Surely every person on that crazy morning run must desire to "stay home and watch DVDs and eat Vegemite scrolls and maybe start growing some marijuana plants as the first step to raising four career criminals."


This book came from the crazily-popular blog of the same name, which Clint started writing as a way of processing his stuff. Every crazy person knows that writing helps make you at least a little saner, right?


So how do you represent sweetness and the everydayness of raising kids? How do you do it honour, so that it doesn't smarm or bore? Just have a dad hopelessly in love with his wife and his kids write to tell you about it direct. None of that 1970's distant dad disconnected from his emotions here. Clint loves his kids and loves being a dad and he'll warm your heart telling you about it, and about how vulnerable it makes him feel. ('This feels illegal,' he says to Tania as they leave the hospital with newly-born Archie). He'll also lay it out on a red satin pillow of self-deprecation, hyperbole, honesty, a little bit of tragedy, a decent nod to the haunting moments of our lives, and a wicked sense of humour and that's why it works so well. It reminds you again of how normal bringing up children is and how damn awesome everyone who does it at least nominally well is. Even if your taste in 80's music is outright cruddy.


Published by Random House, July 2014

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