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2017 Man Booker Longlist: Reservoir 13

reservoir 13

Next up for the panel is Reservoir 13. Once again our panel reviewed the book on the following criteria: 1) writing quality; 2) originality; 3) character development; 4) plot development; and 5) overall enjoyment. We’ve each provided mini-reviews and ratings. Here are our ratings for Reservoir 13.

Special Thank you to Catapult Press for providing us with a review copy in exchange for our honest reviews.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
2017 Man Booker (longlist)
Published in: 2017
Judges: Andrew, Jen, Book Worm, & Nicole
Find it/buy it here: Reservoir 13

Synopsis (from Amazon): Midwinter in an English village. A teenage girl has gone missing. Everyone is called upon to join the search. The villagers fan out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on what is usually a place of peace. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.

As the seasons unfold and the search for the missing girl goes on, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together and those who break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a tragedy refuse to subside.

Andrew’s Review: I’ve spent the last few days looking for a succinct way to describe this book. While the narrative is ostensibly driven by a missing child plot line, that is certainly not the focus of the book. Instead, it reads like a monthly almanac of occurrences and interactions in a small, unnamed village somewhere in the midlands of England. I realize this doesn’t sound like a particularly interesting read, I found it completely engrossing and one of the more enjoyable reads I’ve had this year.

McGregor’s style is clean and sparse. There’s not a superfluous word in the book, and if anything, the reader is left wanting a little more. But what McGregor leaves out in one section, he often revisits later, and we are able to slowly piece together the lives of the villagers and how they evolve and change over the ten years since the girl first went missing on the moor. I found myself completely immersed in their world and surprising affected by the ups and downs of their lives. McGregor has an amazing knack for producing fully realized characters with a minimum of description. As an avid naturalist, I loved how McGregor tied the ever-changing lives of the townspeople to relatively static nature of seasonal cycles. The reliability of the swallows’ arrival and the badger mating season were an excellent counterpoint to the constant upheaval in the characters’ lives.

The minimalist style and slow pace may not be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It’s a very different book than Lincoln in the Bardo or Underground Railroad. A lovely selection by the committee.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character Development: 3/4
Plot Development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Book Worm’s Review:  This is another 4 star book whose Man Booker rating is not truly reflective of how good the book actually is, so lets tackle the good and the “bad” head on:

  1. Originality – I have scored this high for originality because  while the missing girl is an essential part of the story this is not a murder mystery, a whodunit or a thriller instead this is a study of how after a massive event like this life must go on for the ordinary people caught up in events, and how eventually everyday life takes over and normality returns.
  2. Writing quality – On the surface this is a quite simplistic book however when you look at each chapter there is a kind of poetry, a natural rhythm to events and the repetition of certain key events (anniversary of the disappearance, New Years Eve, Harvest Festival etc) creates it own pacing that is ideally matched to a story about a small village. The way things are revealed and never fully explained and even the title are all carefully thought out parts of the mystery.
  3. Character development – This got a low score because while the characters age and their life circumstances change I never really felt we knew any character well enough to see them develop.
  4. Plot Development – This also got a low score because while things happen (births, deaths, marriages etc) there is nothing really driving the plot forward there is not really a beginning, a middle or an end instead this book shows how life goes on and how not everything can be tied up neatly in a specific time period. Which in this context is a good thing.

Overall I really enjoyed this well paced novel and would like to see it progress further.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 2/4
Plot development 2/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 14/20

Jen’s Review: This is a book that I think will have mixed reviews but I loved every minute of it. The writing is incredibly sparse yet manages to perfectly capture both the natural environment and the day to day life of the village. I’ve been really impressed by the writing quality of this year’s longlist books. Each book I’ve read has been exquisitely written and each one very different in terms of narrative style. Reservoir 13 is no exception. The style was different, repetitive at times, sparse, and so wonderful that I was left dazed. Wow, this man can write!

Reservoir 13 is a very literary book in that it is not plot heavy and therefore won’t be for everyone. The book isn’t about large plot moments, it doesn’t build to anything big then resolve that conflict, and it’s no thriller (which some may expect from the synopsis). It is a book about the day to day life of a small village over the course of 13 years after a young teenager goes missing. Those looking for a missing person story will be disappointed since Reservoir 13 is not about what happened or how it happened. It’s about how a tragic event continues to create a shadow over an entire town. I loved following the lives of the villagers and I felt like I had become another member of the village. I loved this beautiful, quiet, and wonderful book. So far, it ranks among the top books on the longlist for me.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Nicole’s Review:  I’m in the mostly bored camp.  This book is an almanac with people and a missing girl – “The clocks went back and the nights overtook the short days.”  (I love that sentence for some reason.)  The writing is good, but I’m in no way blown away by it like I was with History of Wolves.  I found the writing subtle but interesting and clever.  (“The keeper wasn’t a man for whistling while he worked, but his mood was good.”) Probably Neil Gaiman fans would like this writing.

There was virtually no plot, and because there was nothing going on it was hard for me to get into most of the characters and there were a lot of them.  Time went by and they grew up, older, experienced things, but in 300 pages that many people can’t develop.

I did enjoy the missing girl parts, the way the book progressed was written in a really interesting way, from that angle I can see how it made the longlist.  3 stars for me, sparks of brilliance overshadowed by a general lack of interest in the day to day life of the town.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality 3/5
Character development: 2.5/4
Plot development 1/4
Overall enjoyment: 1/2
Total: 11.5/20

Average score across all panelists: 14.87/20

Our Collective Ranking of Longlist books to date:
1. Exit West by Hamid: 17.4/20
2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: 16.8/20
3. Days Without End by Sebastian Barry: 16/20
4. History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund: 15.4/20
5. Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor: 14.87/20
5. Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead: 13.9/20
6. Swing Time by Zadie Smith: 13.7/20

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. I like this more as I reflect on it …


    August 25, 2017
    • Anita #

      Should I try to get to it, Nicole? I was thinking not based on your reaction (since oftentimes we see eye to eye on these things).


      August 26, 2017
      • I think you have a higher tolerance for lack of plot than I do. There’s some brilliance to it. You may like it, but don’t know that it will blow you away.


        August 26, 2017
  2. Tracy S #

    Darn. Not available in US until October 1. I’ll have to wait. It sounds like a book I’d love- pastoral and sparse.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 25, 2017
  3. Ive been waiting to hear your thoughts on this since it’s the one title on the longlist that captured my interest. I’m definitely going to get this now

    Liked by 1 person

    August 26, 2017
  4. This is the one I’m most excited about. I loved his first novel, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.

    Liked by 1 person

    August 28, 2017
  5. Book Worm #

    This is a great book


    August 28, 2017

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  1. 2017 Man Booker Shortlist Predictions | The Reader's Room

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