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.”