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Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

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Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor was published this past spring to immediate rave reviews – longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize and the Costa Novel Award, and listed as a Kirkus Best Book of 2017. The cover quotes Roddy Doyle, “Quite extraordinary – the way it is structured, the way it rolls, the skill with which McGregor lets the characters breathe and age”.

Reservoir 13 is extraordinary, and a really good read! And, Jon McGregor is an extraordinarily good writer. I am certainly going to look for, and read, earlier books by this author.

Rebecca Shaw, 13 years old, wearing a white hooded top, five feet tall, dark-blonde hair, is missing. Just before the turn of the year, early in this century, while her family is renting a holiday barn conversion on the moors. During a walk with her parents in the hills nearby, the girl known as Becky, or Rebecca or Bex, goes missing. There is a search, the first of many, all with the same disappointing result.

The village is a small – everyone knows everyone to some extent. There are few secrets and all are suspect. We meet the people who live here – the farmers, the shopkeepers, the teachers, the retired people, those who have allotments in the community garden. Some have nothing to hide, some have much. Others may not know the secrets, but the reader learns of many. All are haunted by the disappearance of the girl. She had visited the village the summer before and befriended some of the local young teenagers. We wonder if they know what happened to her. Or, did she choose to disappear?

Her parents are understandably distraught, but we wonder if either, or both, of them had anything to do with their daughter’s disappearance. Did something happen on that walk, do they know where she is, and if she is dead or alive?

This is a region of reservoirs, sometimes full, sometimes not. Other writers of mystery novels have used a similar approach, On Buelah Height by Reginald Hill and In a Dry Season by Peter Robinson both feature long ago mysteries solved when there is a change in the water level of a reservoir. In Reservoir 13, as water levels rise and fall, and years pass, we continue to expect the discovery of a body that will be identified as that of the girl whose name was Rebecca, Becky or Bex. We wait for that day, as do her parents, and those who remember her.

Years pass, lives move on. There are marriages and separations, illness and death. Some spend time on their allotments, observing each other and the passersby. Those we met as young teenagers finish school, and go off to university, or not. Some are successful, some are not. Some return home, they meet occasionally.

Village life changes with the times, more of the houses are now owned by incomers who use them as holiday homes, some converted into small inns.

There are very few now who remember the day a plane crashed during the Second World War, a wreckage in the moors. Some day there will be few who remember when the girl whose name was Rebecca, Becky or Bex went missing in those same hills.

 

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