Year Of Publication: 6th April 2017
Publisher: 4th Estate
Pages: 384 (Paperback)
My rating: 4.5/5
“The missing girl’s name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. In the photo her face was half turned away from the camera as though she didn’t want to be seen, as though she wanted to be somewhere else. She would be twenty years old by now but she was always spoken of as a girl. It had been seven years, and there was talk that now she would legally have to be declared dead. This turned out to have no basis in law, according to a statement released by the police. Any such declaration would always depend on the circumstances. The girl’s parents had never stopped looking and the police statement confirmed that the case remained open. In the village people looked up to the hills and felt that they’d long known. She could have walked high over the moor and stumbled into a flooded clough and sunk cold and deep in the wet peat before the dogs and thermal cameras came anywhere near, her skin tanned leather-brown and soft and her hair coiled neatly around her. She could have fallen anywhere and be lying there still.”
Reservoir 13 has a very clever beginning but no convenient end.
With beautiful and abundant descriptions and varying perspectives, Jon McGregor gives us insight into the lives of strangers of an unnamed village in the Peak District of England, when 13 year old Rebecca Shaw goes missing while on a holiday with her family.
A search for her takes place.
But no trace can be found.
It’s as if she disappeared into thin air.
The reader is then thrust amidst the multiple character’s lives and how the tragedy affects (or doesn’t affect) their daily ongoings.
For some characters, it is the pinnacle of realisation on the direction their lives will take, while for others it is a nondescript backdrop for the chaos that currently ensues in their lives.
Each of the 13 chapters begins at a new year after the disappearance, with nonchalant clues about Rebecca Shaw inserted into mundane narratives about births and deaths and the turn of the weather, with mention of the 13 reservoirs that surround the village and contemplation about ways they could be linked with her vanishing.
If you’re not paying close attention you won’t notice how change discreetly takes place throughout the book.
How various characters enter and mysteriously exit without much preamble.
How lives crumble and begin anew.
“Her name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. She’d been wearing a white hooded top with a navy-blue body-warmer. She would be twenty-three years old by now. She had been seen in the beech wood, climbing a tree. She had been seen at the railway station. She had been seen by the side of the road. She had been looked for, everywhere. She could have arranged to meet somebody, and been driven safely away.She could have fallen down a hole. She could have been hurt by her parents in some terrible mistake. She could have gone away because she’d chosen to, or because she had no choice. People still wanted to know.”
At first I was confused since I had to keep track of the various characters and the progression of their lives throughout the book – with their various struggles and aspirations; looking for clues in ways they could be involved with the disappearance.
Whether they were guilty or merely unsuspecting spectators…
Soon it became evident that what happened to Rebecca Shaw wasn’t the focal point of the plot, instead analysing how a close knit community deals with a tragedy and how it affects them as the years go by is the crux of this book.
How for some villagers, the memory was as clear as yesterday, while for others it was lost in the maze of time…
The mystery surrounding Rebecca Shaw is open to interpretation, which I believe adds to the overall appeal of “Reservoir 13”.
This was also the first time I’ve read a book which was so uniquely structured.
The book manages to be haunting, rhythmic and ordinary at the same time and is definitely something I’d recommend reading during a summer heatwave.
Moreover, Jon McGregor quoted in an interview that Reservoir 13 is essentially an “anti-thriller” and the disappearance of Rebecca Shaw was used as a hook to draw the reader in.
Since no resolution is offered at the end it questions why we crave resolution in fiction to justify reading a book?
Why we always want a simple answer to the complex dynamics of human life?
Would the reaction have been similar if a boy had gone missing? Why is it, that we mostly sympathise with missing girls and are fascinated to an almost unnatural degree when a female goes missing?
Definitely questions that made me analyse the way our society is constructed and how we have been conditioned to think in definitive terms and how that affects our overall perception of things.