Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

33283659Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

As the seasons unfold there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals.

Bats hang in the eaves of the church and herons stand sentry in the river; fieldfares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying.

An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside.

Source Format Pages Publisher Publication Date
NetGalley ARC/ebook 336 Fourth Estate April 6th, 2017

I was drawn to this novel as it promised the ‘exploration of the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence‘. The natural aspect, for me, seemed to be something of an invitation for comfort.  The ‘human gift for violence‘, firstly, piqued my interest because no one has ever referred to violence in humans as being a ‘gift’ and, secondly, mixing the nature aspect with violence is like getting a 2 in 1.

As the storyline in this novel spans thirteen years I was worried at first as sometimes cramming all those years into a story can be tricky and even though it took me a little while to really get into the flow of things I soon found a steady pace and managed to re-organize my expectations of the novel.

The delivery of the story felt… strange. It is something of a format I don’t believe I have come across before. It’s very fluid in delivery and yet at the same time it felt like I wasn’t getting the full picture. The scenes jump from location to location, from people to people, from event to event without any great amount of time spent on each for too long. However, as I kept pushing on, page after page, I started to notice and recognize the patterns. I got to know the characters more and more each time and by the end I was fully friendly with the village and its residents.

Yes, it took my a while to get used to the narrative but it all played out like a massive session of gossip! Imagine a reality TV show setting up cameras in a rural village and then following the lives of strangers for thirteen years. Some stuff you see is natural, other stuff is more surprising, but generally what you get is behavior patterns and ways of coping. The dialogue in between people, the separation from dialogue to prose, the brief glimpses of people’s lives and the fact that I really wanted to know what had happened to the missing girl just kept me reading, albeit slowly, but surely. <spoiler>You never will find out what happened to the missing girl, which was a minor disappointment for me, however I could see that in keeping this story real, sometimes the cases of missing people are not solved </spoiler>

So, if you looked at my spoiler, it will tell you that the missing girl was a good trick to keep a reader in suspense in a way because throughout the book every character was a suspect. I kept analyzing their ways, behaviors and words… alas… <spoiler> it was simply not necessary</spoiler> … it did keep me reading, mind!

As you know I like my reads to be thunderous and creepy and utterly wham-bam-thank you mam, well.. in this case, I think, it was a chance for me to stop and smell the roses. The missing girl case, the case itself, is really not the be all, end all focus of the novel. Reservoir 13 is less about being a full-blown crime/mystery novel and more about just exploring and observing life. Personally, the missing girl case could have been completely non-existent in this novel and it wouldn’t have made a difference as I didn’t see or feel it affecting people fundamentally. Maybe that was the aim? To show that while something horrible had happened, people were not going to really lose sleep over it, start suspecting one another? The missing girl was just like another event in the character’s lives affecting them much the same like their personal relationship dramas, financial troubles, etc.

Reservoir 13 is the everyday life of the villagers. Yes, it did get to feeling a bit soap opera at times, but I can’t say it was unrealistic, because this was life in its true colors. The lambings, the cheatings, babies being born and mothers struggling. Shops being closed and church losing it’s attendants. It was just 13 years of a village residents going about their lives and occasionally remembering the missing girl.

What I truly loved in this novel,  the reason I wanted to read this book in the first place, were the nature aspects peppered in to mark the passing of time. It’s quite unique and a brilliant way to deliver a story and for the likes of me, always observing the natural aspects, this suited me to a T.

So, in conclusion, did the novel satisfy my main aim of getting my nature and violence fix? Yes. It did. The nature elements gave me just enough to create a visual for the location of the novel, of the way of our characters’ lives. How often do we actually spend hour and hours watching ants scuttle about, birds taking flight, bees collecting nectar? Most of us are too busy rushing on city pavements from bus stops to train stops, from one office room to another, from work to home… so, we don’t really pay a lot of attention to the outdoors… But the novel delivered exactly the amount of nature- a look here, a rustle there… Just enough to give a feeling and make a connection.

The overall experience left me with this thought: we are all living beings- humans, foxes, badgers, beetles- so, how are we, as humans, really any different from other wildlife? We are not. Food chains, hierarchies, power plays. Simply put- we are all driven by same urges: sleep, food, being accepted and loved, sex, work, companionship. We’re all following the same pattern and while we live, kill and die, the life will still keep turning over on the wheels of time.

What you might like:

The fact that while the blurb mentions ‘repeated human gift for violence‘, it is really not graphic in this novel and makes for good, steady reading for those who like it ‘nice’.

The fact that it delivers an interesting set of characters from all ages with their daily issues which majority can relate to.

What you might not like:

The pace, <spoiler> that the case of the missing girl never gets solved </spoiler> ,  the fact that the missing girl case affects the villager’s lives a little less that you might expect.

My rating: 3 stars (I liked it)


  1. Never really been a reality TV guy so I guess this isn’t a book for me , meanwhile “top stop and smell the roses. ” Is that actually a saying or did you make it up? Coz that was cool to read

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A soap opera set in a village that includes farming?!…..It’s Emmerdale in book form!😂

    Definitely not a book for me, the synopsis bit about fences repaired and stones cut, snorefest!😂

    But saying that, I agree with you about stopping and smelling the roses at times, reading something different and a bit more placid.

    Cool review as always Queen.😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Part of me is curious to experience this narration and the other part of me says that is one to skip. I originally thought that this would be more of a tale of how loss affects humanity over time, but since you mention the story could be told without the missing girl aspect, that is not so? I also want to add as a side note that I love how you formatted the book info 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah…. I think, while it was nice to experience something different for a change, I doubt you’d enjoy it that much. I don’t think the book is good enough for you, and while I don’t mean the writing, I mean the plot. I think you would be disappointed of the same thing as I was (my spoiler) which ties in with the missing girl… who’s more like a ghost or urban legend than a real, proper case.
      Awh,. thank you- yeah, used html to create a table but haven’t got around to formatting it yet, like borders etc… but yeah, decided I need some ‘structure’ like all the other, very good book bloggers! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a brilliant review! “repeated human gift for violence” stays with you once you’ve read it, this is for sure! I probably would have issues with the pacing, because I’m often a bit impatient, even with books, but I’m also nosey and I love what you said about the missing girl only being a part of people’s lives, it won’t stop them from eating, showering, living, simply. Just like nature doesn’t stop when a bird’s nest is crushed. I get the feeling from your words that this book reflects life in its most normal and simple (boring?:p) but beautiful way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow… did the real life case get solved? There are so many missing person cases lately I think… some get solved with a quick resolution of – oh, they’re fine, they just went to visit a friend, etc- but often times, like a case from Estonia a couple years back, gosh, seeing the worried parents just breaks a heart!


  5. A bit sad that whole missing child thing doesn’t get resolved… I mean, it’s an interesting point you make saying that sometimes a missing child won’t lead a whole neighborhood to go on a hunt and create an epic mystery story around it, but then again, this sounds like a village where people know each other and even the smallest event could trigger so many people. The whole soap opera thing also sounds odd, but I like that you mention how you get used to it and don’t let it hinder your experience. Got me curious on the narration. This was definitely a very thoughtful review with a nice balance between pros and cons, Liz! 😀 Good stuff!

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Genre expectations foiled … listened to Reservoir 13 on radio 4 book @ bedtime … gradually dawned on me, there is no closure to the story: we never get to find out what happened to the missing girl. So, I’ll stop listening … if I want meditations on nature, changing seasons etc, I’ll read something else !! Au revoir, reservoir 13 !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha, it was a rather strange experience reading the book.. I see there’s another one out by Him The Reservoir Tapes or something? I was initially agree,d but not sure I am going to read it…


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