Booker longlist reading: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

One of my favorite aspects of Man Booker season is that I learn about books and authors I’d not heard of before. This year there were fewer of those finds, but this was a stellar one. McGregor has written several other books and is admired within the UK literary community, but he hasn’t really broken out in the US that I can tell. More shame for us, because this is an amazing novel. The Guardian has two excellent reviews which provide slightly different interpretations but agree on the quality of the work.

Reservoir 13 is nominally a mystery, in that it begins with the disappearance of a girl at the New Year. She goes off for a walk with her parents and vanishes. The family has been on holiday in a village in the Peak District, a place they’ve been coming for years, and the village rallies all its efforts to try and find her. The media descend and the intensive search throws a spotlight on the place and its people. For a while. Then another story comes along and the spotlight recedes, reappearing intermittently when new information comes to light or there is an anniversary. Meanwhile, the village residents go about their lives, touched to greater or lesser degrees by the event.

The book comprises 13 chapters, each representing a year since the disappearance. We get to know a dozen or more of them as they are born, die, move into or away from the village, get married and/or divorced, lose their jobs, and grow older. Their backstories emerge over chapters, which means the reader can feel a bit at sea at first. But keep reading and you learn a lot about them, and at least for me, by the end I felt enmeshed in the village and its life.

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