‘In April the first swallows were seen, sweeping low over the pastures in the early evening and taking the insects that rose with the dew. And still the sound of a helicopter clattering by was never just the sound of a helicopter but everything that sound had one night meant.’
As the race for the 2017 Man Booker Prize heats up, this week I read Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13. As sit here basking in the beautiful afterglow of this novel, the biggest surprise is how quickly it has usurped Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End as my favourite. Those of you who read my blog will know that I do not do this lightly!
‘The missing girl’s name was Becky, or Rebecca, or Bex. If she was still alive she could be close to six feet tall by now.
Reservoir 13 sets up as a missing persons thriller but it quickly becomes apparent that the novel is about much more than this singular event. While the disappearance is referred to throughout the book and the mystery continues to the very end, McGregor merely uses this event as an anchor point for describing a vast arrays of happenings in a tiny rural village.
The manner in which he does this perfectly encapsulates the rhythms of the world around this. The cycles of the seasons come and go, bringing with them the weather, plants and animals that are expected amongst their passing. Within this structure, we witness a huge range of characters grow up, fall in and out of love and deal with all the challenges that life entails.
‘The clocks went forward and the evenings opened out. The buds on the branches were brightening.’
There are constant references to the missing girl and where she might be. There are hoax and imagined sightings as well as the odd clue. The reader even begins to suspect some of the villagers. As the case remains open, the author provides many sightings of another kind. Badgers, bats, foxes and birds all feature as if they are important characters too. The brutality and tenderness of the natural world often mirrors that of the human village.
‘It went on like this. This was how it went on.’
Reading this book put me in mind of reading a long poem. It is meant to read in long, enjoyable swathes so that the reader can become fully immersed in the passing of time. The author easily covers over a decade of events in a consistent and even flow throughout. This put me in mind of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves and the Oscar-winning film Boyhood.
‘They had wanted to find her. They had wanted to know she was safe. They had felt involved, although they barely knew her.’
To conclude, I would like to stress that Reservoir 13 is an exceptional read. It is all at once a mesmerising, lyrical and poetic novel that will hypnotise you with its free flowing prose. It really does have the potential to be regarded as a true classic of our time and as it stands, this is the book that I fancy will win the 2017 Man Booker Prize.