Reservoir 13 isn’t simply an iteration of the usual story, however: it’s a fascinating exploration of it. McGregor is a writer with extraordinary control, and he uses the power of the archetype as well as our genre expectations for his own purposes ... And then as our expectations are strained to the limit, we begin to realise that the writer is deflecting them into something else, taking us into another kind of novel altogether. What actually fills up the pages, fills up narrative time while we wait to find the girl, is an omniscient narration moving easily around and inside a whole collective of protagonists in the village and following them through their daily lives, none of them dominating the story space ... The characters we watch are all warm enough, sentient human beings, prone to needing and wanting and mostly failing one another. But the eye of the story keeps its remote omniscient distance; it’s a cold camera-eye, or the eye of a hawk circling above the village, assembling everything impartially, not taking sides ... Reservoir 13 is an enthralling and brilliant investigation of disturbing elements embedded deeply in our story tradition.
To hear about such events is to want to be involved in them, but the dull horror of McGregor’s quietly triumphant novel Reservoir 13 depends on this desire for involvement never being quite satisfied ... Like Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, this is a novel of voices. The third-person narrative moves between characters seamlessly, sometimes in mid-paragraph, as they talk to and observe one another. The narrative voice is a collective one: the chorus of the community, the apparent disinterest of which is undercut by a nagging judgmentalism ... McGregor’s use of free indirect style is masterful. His method implies that our thoughts are never really our own, and that we only very rarely admit to all the things that are going on in our minds ... Reservoir 13 is written against that most superficial of psychological and fictional crutches — the idea of 'closure' — and is all the better for it. It is an extraordinary novel of threads left unwoven.
McGregor delicately labors to show with what terrifying ease the quick pulse of life displaces the lost signal of death. Life grows over death, quite literally; the dead are at our mercy...nature has its own ceaseless life rhythms, and it is in McGregor’s incantatory, lingering account of the annual rise and fall that his book achieves a visionary power ... All this risks making McGregor seem a more ethereal novelist than he is. He understands that the novel is fed by fact and social detail, by human beings and their foolish motives—the mulch of the actual. His work is significant, and often surprising, because he wants to mix the mundane and the visionary, and because his books don’t settle down into conventional forms ... The word 'collage' implies something static and finally fixed, but the beauty of Reservoir 13 is in fact rhythmic, musical, ceaselessly contrapuntal.
Unlike most novels that delve closely into the life of a main protagonist, McGregor distances the reader in a more omniscient fashion, picking and choosing whom to look in on and when. Sharing only fleeting glimpses of their lives like an unattached observer, McGregor darts in and out of the lives of his characters in seemingly random fashion. Chapters are divided into years, years into quick flashes of months or days—moments in time all indelibly etched into the fabric of the community, into the souls of the people therein, and into the hearts and minds of readers. Despite the unusual style—no direct dialogue and no paragraph breaks here—McGregor’s lyrical prose and sense of detail totally immerse the reader. Reaching the end of a chapter is like coming up for a brief gulp of air before diving in to see what happens next.
Reservoir 13 — longlisted for this year’s Man Booker — begins with a tragic incident, and continues first by examining a community in crisis, and then by atomizing that community and following the flow of disparate and interconnected lives over the years ...an intricate and absorbing mosaic-like structure of miniature stories, scenes and snapshots ...starts out with the familiar hallmarks of a crime novel, it quickly develops into a quite different literary beast, one that acquires power and depth through bold form and style, not gripping drama and suspense ... McGregor’s controlled prose — all pertinent detail, lilting rhythms, lush textures — unfolds in long, un-paragraphed blocks ... This is unconventional storytelling, a daring way to tell a tale, but one that yields haunting and stimulating results.
McGregor is a beautiful, controlled writer, who can convey the pathos of a life in a few lines. Despite the large cast of characters, each feels specific and real … McGregor captures a village culture that is simultaneously gossipy and reserved. We are frequently told a character ‘was seen’ doing this or that, but not by whom … The only flaw in this unconventional but affecting novel is that its central metaphor — the girl’s disappearance — remains obscure.
Most books involving crime and foul play provide the consolation of some sort of resolution. But Mr. McGregor’s novel, which was longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize, shows how life, however unsettlingly, continues in the absence of such explanation. The everyday events of the village resume. Seasons come and go. The villagers’ illnesses, births, affairs, separations and gestures of kindness draw the omniscient attention of Mr. McGregor’s narrative. Readers note possible clues—a dog tussles with an old navy-blue body-warmer found in a copse of trees—of which the book’s characters remain oblivious. A plausible suspect—a creepy janitor with pornography on his computer—is allowed to go about his business. Hopes are dashed, genre expectations go unfulfilled. Yet Rebecca remains in the villagers’ collective memory years later, a recurring figure in sleeping and waking dreams.
Jon McGregor has revolutionized that most hallowed of mystery plots: the one where some foul deed takes place in a tranquil English village that, by the close of the case, doesn’t feel so tranquil anymore. Whether you find McGregor’s innovations brilliant or boring will depend on your tolerance for delayed gratification ... as McGregor’s achievement is, I frequently found myself looking for excuses to stop admiring it and read something else. Staying inside his finely wrought construction for long stretches of time made me feel wistful for Agatha Christie. I wanted clues to track, criminals to nab and, most of all, a timely solution that would lay evil to rest ... The inventive — and enervating — quality of McGregor’s novel derives not only from its refusal to bend to conventional thriller expectations, but also from its form. Paragraphs frequently run on for pages — monoliths of prose in which the minutiae of life in the village is recounted ... Reservoir 13 generates suspense, not out of chase scenes or sly dialogue, but out of the extended narrative experience of waiting — waiting for something, anything, to break in Rebecca’s case. Maybe this is not so much a thriller, but a 'post-thriller'— a novel that meditates on tragedy and its inevitable fading away in memory. No matter how it’s classified, Reservoir 13 requires an extraordinary amount of patience from its readers.
McGregor masterfully employs a free, indirect style that forgoes quotation marks and seamlessly blends narrative, dialogue, and wonderfully observant, poetic musings. McGregor excels at breathing life into characters with brief phrases or quotes that add up to deep, three-dimensional creations. Longlisted for the Man Booker, McGregor’s novel’s subtly devastating impact ultimately imparts wisdom about the tenuous and priceless gift of life. For fans of Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo.
...an atmospheric, meticulously crafted novel ... In simple, quiet, and deliberate prose, McGregor describes the passing months. The seasons change, 'bees stumbled fatly between the flowers and the slugs gorged' while 'in the dusk the wood pigeons gathered to roost.' The villagers—Jones the carpenter; Jane Hughes the vicar; Sally; Liam—go on with their lives. 'It went on like this. This was how it went on.' The pantomime is performed every December. 'Dreams were had about her, still.' A stunningly good, understated novel told in a mesmerizing voice.
McGregor portrays individuals and the community as a whole, across seasons, in mundane scenes and moments of heartbreak, cruelty, and guilt. Close-ups of flora and fauna are set against a landscape of reservoirs, dens, and caves, the village hall, the pub, and the flooded quarry. This is an ambitious tour de force that demands the reader’s attention; those willing to follow along will be rewarded with a singular and haunting story.