14 April 2018

Book

I just finishing reading a novel. It was "Reservoir 13" by Jon McGregor. My feelings about it are quite conflicted.

On the plus side, I liked the fact that it was set in my backyard - The Peak District. I also admired McGregor's close observations of nature from mating foxes to returning swallows and I liked the sense of a community evolving over a decade. The style of writing is uncomplicated.

A vital thread that runs through the novel concerns the disappearance of a teenage girl called Rebecca Shaw. There are echoed references  to her in every chapter. We are tantalised by possibilities. What did happen to her? Will we ever know?

I know that I am not the only reader who found it difficult to keep tabs on the various villagers who inhabit the novel. None of them ever receives a physical description and there is no dialogue. To me there was something of a cardboard cutout quality about them - they often lacked depth and genuine emotional investment. However, I was prepared to tolerate them because I was keen to find out what had happened to Rebecca Shaw.

The narrator is all-seeing. He sees the bats and details about footpaths, bedroom antics, reservoirs and the botany of the region but he refuses to reveal what happened to Rebecca Shaw. Of course, I accept that neat resolution is not always the duty of  a novelist. Sometimes an open, ambiguous ending is the most appropriate choice, leaving the reader to speculate and wonder. However, in this instance, I felt that I had been the victim of sustained teasing. Rebecca Shaw's life deserved a solution or at least a powerful hint about what had transpired thirteen years beforehand.

When interviewed by Alice O'Keeffe for "The Bookseller", Jon McGregor was asked if he had spent time observing badgers in the wild - perhaps staking out a sett - to which  he laughed, replying, "Um. No. The internet."

In the final analysis, I am glad I bothered to read "Reservoir 13" in spite of my misgivings about it. The language was carefully crafted. Arguably, it was trying to do something different - perhaps shaking up complacent notions about what a novel should be and what it should do...

“Her name was Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex. She'd been wearing a white hooded 
top with a navy-blue body-warmer. She would be twenty-three years old by 
now. She had been seen in the beech wood, climbing a tree. She had been 
seen at the railway station. She had been seen by the side of the road. She 
had been looked for, everywhere. She could have arranged to meet somebody, 
and been driven safely away.She could have fallen down a hole. She could 
have been hurt by her parents in some terrible mistake. She could 
have gone away because she'd chosen to, or because she had no choice. 
People still wanted to know.”

19 comments:

  1. I doubt this will be on my reading list. Actually, I have no doubt...it won't be on my list of books to read. The quote supplied doesn't raise my interest one iota. My opinion matters little, but it is mine to express.

    Also, I have a pile of Diana Gabaldon ("Outlander") books to plough through first before I consider anything else.

    I'm still trying to finish reading today's newspaper, which is taking me forever to do because the Commonwealth Games events are on in the background (via TV). Today is the second last day of competition...my addiction ends tomorrow!

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    1. While on the subject of books and reviews thereof, Yorkie...

      A few minutes ago I just finished reading a review on the recently-released autobiography by Geoffrey Robertson (lawyer, academic, author, TV show host -"Hypothetical"...etc.)

      His autobiography is titled - "Rather His Own Man; Reliable Memoirs". I think it would be very interesting, entertaining reading.

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    2. There are so many great books out there. Even if we read 24/7 we would only be skimming the surface of the vast book world.

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  2. You were very persistent to finish this story. I probably wouldn't complete reading the book.

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    1. I bet you would finish "The Hunt for RED October" and "The RED Badge of Courage".

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    2. Wow ! I really have to read the red books . How about Mao's little red book?

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  3. Here's how I read books like that: if there's nothing going on by the end of the second chapter, I flip to the last few pages of the book. If the ending is not clear from that, I work backward until (1) it gets clearer, or (2) I realize I don't care. Life's too short to read disappointing books! Thank you for the heads up; I'm sure there are readers for whom this would be intriguing and worth reading.

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    1. I have never read one book like that. I read and digest every word as I turn the pages in order. Partly I do this out of respect to the writer.

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    2. I get what you're saying. But if their writing is not good then readers should feel comfortable spending their valuable time on something else. Just my opinion.

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  4. Books like that leave me feeling a bit cheated. I want to be entertained, not teased!

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    1. As I say, in my view, an open ending can sometimes be justifiable but I think "Reservoir 13" deserved resolution.

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  5. I don't like a book that doesn't clear up the mystery. "The Miniaturist" was one of those.....a great read but very disappointing end as the reader was no nearer to knowing the hows and whys and who !! I also vaguely remember reading an Agatha Christie many years ago that was written in the first person and the narrator turned out to be the murderer and had been lying to the reader throughout. I never read another Agatha !

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    1. I don't often read crime fiction. I guess that "Reservoir 13" gave out the initial illusion that it belonged to that genre though there were no police officers or cunning detectives.

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  6. Well, it was the winner of the Costa Novel award last year, although winning an award is not always the sign of a good book! I haven't read any of his books but you have piqued my interest and I might just have a look at it, contrary as I am!

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    1. Well I hope I haven't given too much away.

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  7. like a provocative movie......it has stimulated discussion which is always a good thing

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    1. You are right there John. By the way, I would put money on this novel being turned into a film or TV drama series.

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  8. I wonder if the author has explained why he resolved (or not) the book the way he did? Also, it seems very strange to write a novel without dialogue. To me, dialogue provides air to a story. Otherwise all those words and descriptions tend to get quite heavy.

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    1. The author said he never sets out to teach. His main preoccupation with this novel was to create a community and a sense of time passing. He is much feted by critics.

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