An electrifying new novel ... a stylish and alarming new book ... Handled with less inventive prose, a book like this might feel like a series of Stephen King-ish portraits of small people being horrible. But McGregor’s too inventive a writer not to dazzle and surprise, to create moments that confound and stir. In pages that recall some of our most excitingly dense and playful postmodern stylists, such as Padgett Powell and Robert Coover, it becomes clear, rather quickly, how dedicated to, among other pursuits, McGregor is to crafting first and final sentences ... Another of McGregor’s many talents is his stunning ability to render the landscape of the northern islands ... Not all of us live in a small town, but our lives are equally divisible into characters, one of which looks just like us.
McGregor demonstrates an extraordinary ability to create complex, multidimensional characters in only a few spare sentences. He is also a master of mood, investing his stories with an air of the ominous while proving also to be a superb stylist (bees buzz 'fatly' in foxgloves; 'a baggy flock of crows' lift from trees). Irresistibly readable, the book is, in sum, a memorable celebration of literary fiction.
With The Reservoir Tapes, which was originally broadcast on Radio 4 as a series of short stories, McGregor has squared the circle. The book returns us to Reservoir 13’s hills and valleys and shifting seasons, but here the collective voice of the novel has fractured. Instead of a broad but shallow composite perspective, the stories, each from the viewpoint of a single character, present a series of narrow but far deeper insights, altering our understanding both of the familiar landscape and the actions of the people moving through it ... a great, slow-moving river whose smooth surface conceals myriad quick, vicious currents beneath, ready to catch at your feet and pull you under ... McGregor appears to be offering a more conventional pass at the crime genre ... [The Reservoir Tapes] is an extension of the formal experimentation that was begun in Reservoir 13; a millefeuille confection of layers of ambiguity and occlusion that conceal even as they promise to reveal.
The effect of McGregor’s dispassionate descriptive method is first disconcerting, then uncanny, and finally magnificent ... This is part of the offhand skill of The Reservoir Tapes. We’re used to stories in which a single fatal moment radiates outward, but McGregor is interested, rather, in the inverse, inspecting how incidental a tragedy can become to the life of a village after its first moments of gossipy tension and excitement ... it’s clear that McGregor, working from subtle materials, has become a major writer. The Reservoir Tapes is further confirmation of it.
[The writing in The Reservoir Tapes] has a more spoken cadence and a wider range of tones than the novel's steady circling and repetitions allowed. The absence of reports on fox cubs and the like underlines an emphasis on the Peak District as a post-industrial place shaped by quarrying and mining and reservoir engineering rather than an instance of Nature with a capital N. At the same time, the stronger focus on indiviual characters, and the many different ways in which the stories are set up, deliver, more of a sense of McGregor's versatility. in these expanisve miniatures it's easier to see how good he is at individual voices and at deadpan jokes as well as deadpan sadness.
A lyric experiment, with the details of an almanac or poetic gossip rag, and it is at once mesmerizing and subtly tragic ... a reason to dive beneath the surface of a place to grapple with the lives and stories transpiring there ... On its own, this book is a noteworthy event. When put in conversation with Reservoir 13, it is nothing short of a remarkable experiment in storytelling. McGregor is a must-read writer.
The Reservoir Tapes also serves as an enjoyable read...for those unfamiliar with McGregor’s novel. The imaginative and nuanced vignettes McGregor creates are less about the particulars of Becky Shaw’s unnerving disappearance and more concerned with the divergences in morality amongst the villagers ... The introductory chapter is haunting and strained ... While not as stylistically unnerving, the following chapters prove equally absorbing ... The vignettes are succinct and impressively subtle, wavering between a mix of reflective and tangential thoughts, offering brief but revealing portraits of the narrators as they see themselves ... McGregor has enriched his story that much more, making the mystery at its center that much more compelling.
McGregor is a maestro at demonstrating the reverberations of catastrophe across space and time, building strong backstory and consequences in only a few lines. As a standalone, the novel is quietly consuming, but as a companion to Reservoir 13, it serves as an exquisite elaboration on the mysterious characters that are the heart of both novels.
[The Reservoir Tapes] is a fresh reminder of [McGregor's] versatility and talent ... Though he abandons Reservoir 13's structure, featuring long paragraphs that shift seamlessly from the human to the natural world, he's not done so at the cost of his fascination with the quotidian aspects of village life – placid on the surface, but teeming with all the complexity of human existence beneath ... [a narrative] well worth following.