Comments from the judges
In minimal language imitating the repetitions of rural life, Reservoir 13 follows the aftermath of the disappearance of a girl from an English village. From the first sentence the rhythms of the prose pull the reader in: “They gathered at the car park in the hour before dawn and waited to be told what to do.”
The novel then unfolds over 13 years, with each chapter describing one year in the life of the village. As in a traditional mystery novel, mundane objects tremble with potential significance. For McGregor the form is perhaps a natural one; his writing has frequently insisted on the meaningfulness of the ordinary.
But this is not a traditional mystery.
Will the girl ever be found?
Is that even the proper question?
About the book
By first light the mist had cleared. From the top of the moor when people turned they could see the village: the beech woodland, the allotments, the church tower and the cricket ground, the river and the quarry and the cement works by the main road into town. There was so much ground to cover, and plenty of places she could be …Midwinter 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; field fares flock in the hawthorn trees and badgers and foxes prowl deep in the woods – mating and fighting, hunting and dying. Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family’s loss; of 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.
About the author
Jon McGregor is the author of four novels and a story collection. He is the winner of the IMPAC Dublin Literature Prize, Betty Trask Prize, and Somerset Maugham Award, and has twice been longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He is Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham, where he edits The Letters Page, a literary journal in letters. He was born in Bermuda in 1976, grew up in Norfolk, and now lives in Nottingham.
Time passes, seasons pass, in a small English village as people live out their daily lives. But always, mostly in the background, is the troubling event of a young girl gone missing. A chilling meditation on time and loss.
Reservoir 13 is a unique and powerful novel which takes an incident which seems like the beginning of a traditional mystery and turns it into the starting point for a searing look at the way in which an unexplained tragedy can affect a whole community. Jon is brilliant at evoking landscape and atmosphere, which is an essential part of the novel, as are the finely drawn characters and the carefully observed details of their everyday lives.
An original premise and narrative style transforms this book into a haunting and memorable story. It is elegant in its simplicity and its use of language is evocative and atmospheric.
Starting out osbensibly as a thriller, with a missing 13-year-old girl and the intensive search for her, this book gradually shifts to being more of a study of the small-town community which is at the centre of the action. The changing of the seasons, the inhabitants and the events of the 13 years covered are beautifully described, making a delightful book.