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Reservoir 13
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2018 Book Discussions > Reservoir 13 - background and general (no spoilers) (Aug 2018)

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message 1: by Hugh (last edited Jul 31, 2018 01:36AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
This thread is for general discussion and background information on Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor. Please do not post spoilers here. I will create the spoiler threads tomorrow.

Reservoir 13 is the fourth novel by the British writer Jon McGregor, and was longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker prize and shortlisted for the 2017 Goldsmiths Prize before winning the 2017 Costa prize for best novel. It is a formally experimental novel in which place takes centre stage, the book follows life in a small village in the Derbyshire Peak District over 13 years, each of which has its own chapter. It starts with the disappearance of a 13 year old girl, last seen walking on the moors. The setting is based on real places, but the landscape has been stretched and features have been moved to suit the story.

It is probably best not to approach this as a plot-driven whodunnit, but to revel in the details, the power of the descriptions, and McGregor's feeling for the slow pace of change in a typical village.

You may notice that the number 13 has already occurred several times in this description - there are many sets of 13 in this novel.

I should mention at this point that this book has divided opinion - for some of us it was the best thing we read last year, for others the repetitive structure and lack of plot and character development proved problematic.

There is also a sequel - The Reservoir Tapes, which was originally written as a series of monologues for BBC Radio 4, and shares the same setting and some of the characters.

A few reviews (as always these may contain spoilers):
https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...
https://www.ft.com/content/34a3a71e-2...
https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/bo...
https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20...
https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/30/bo...
http://www.theliteraryreview.org/book...
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entert...
http://www.startribune.com/review-res...
https://www.newstatesman.com/culture/...

Some more background info on the author and some of the places and other things the book discusses:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jon_McG...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_Di...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Well_dr...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mischie...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nine_La...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_Va...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youlgreave


message 2: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Thanks for all the links, Hugh, although I am a bit intimidated on how to find the time to get through as many as possible.

I've had a sense from some of your comments in the past that you may personally know the area where Reservoir 13 is set. I'll be so bold as to ask if that is so or simply a false conclusion on my part?


message 3: by Hugh (last edited Aug 01, 2018 01:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Lily, Yes, I have spent a lot of time walking in Derbyshire and have a great affection for the area. Most of the places that inspired McGregor are less than an hour away from where I live.

I included the link to Youlgreave because that is where most elements of the village in the book can be found, though the reservoirs and moors have more in common with the Hope Valley and upper Derwent valley and the quarry has elements of both the one near Cromford (the source of the story about the dust) and another near Bradwell (which has a branch railway). The Greystone Way is also a composite - it has elements of The Limestone Way, the Pennine Way and possibly the Gritstone Way.

I have also seen McGregor talking about the book and reading one of the monologues in the Tapes.


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Thanks for the links, Hugh. I haven't listened to The Reservoir Tapes, yet, but wanted to let people know they are available for download as a podcast from iTunes etc...

I agree with your "not to approach this as a plot-driven whodunnit". I can't see enjoying rushing through this book in search of answers to a mystery (which a few of the reviews I read did). More of a meditative look at life and landscape in a particular place, with a disturbing occurrence hanging over it.


Caroline (cedickie) | 384 comments Mod
I read this several months ago so may read along with comments but am not sure I remembered enough to participate. I think I came down somewhere in the middle - thought it was a bit slow and repetitive but was impressed by the descriptions and structure.

Thanks for sharing that info about the Reservoir Tapes, Whitney! I'm a big podcast listener to I may need to add these to my list.


Beverly | 141 comments Hugh - Thanks for all of the links. I appreciate the links about the area where this book is set as it always helps to settle into a book when I understand the setting.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments I sort of think of the book's structure as a bit like 3rd person omniscient stream-of-consciousness. I may not find it wildly exciting, but it keeps me reading and reading and reading...

That said, it isn't the main plot that draws me on, but the ordinary lives of the villagers, which a lovingly sketched. The missing girl is just sort of a lens so far (I'm a bit over halfway through).

I kind of wish there was a dramatis personae, but it probably wouldn't have been practical. But still, it is often hard to keep track of just who is who.


message 8: by Hugh (last edited Aug 01, 2018 01:46AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Thanks all. Paul Fulcher created a character list, which you can see here if you can access Google docs (which is banned in my office):

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1C...


Claire  | 18 comments Thank yo, Paul and Hugh.


Stephen | 21 comments Yes. Thanks Paul and Hugh.
I am 2/3 way through the book and love the writing, description of the nature and life cycles. Although it may seem like a book about the ordinary and mundane I feel McGregor through repetition and rhythm and subtlety manages to show the extra-ordinariness of all of life. (Hope that doesn't sound cliched). It's a beautiful telling of life.


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Hugh wrote: "Thanks all. Paul Fulcher created a character list, which you can see here if you can access Google docs "

Thanks, Hugh -- that's helpful.


message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Hope the list is helpful. Reservoir 13 is a quite brilliant book


message 13: by Dan (new) - added it

Dan Hugh wrote: "Yes, I have spent a lot of time walking in Derbyshire and have a great affection for the area. Most of the places that inspired McGregor are less than an hour away from where I live."
Hugh, I'm hoping that you'll lead a Reservoir 13 walking tour for us.


message 14: by Bretnie (last edited Aug 01, 2018 08:42PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Bretnie | 599 comments I’ll admit to falling in the group that had less patience for the pace and repetition, but I’m still looking forward to the discussion - I always appreciate hearing what people loved about a book that I only found ok.


message 15: by Lily (last edited Aug 06, 2018 10:18AM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments It took me at least a couple of tries to read this book. It was my friend's book A Matter of Chance. that eventually almost forced me to finish Reservoir 13. Maloney looks at how an individual, a single mother, an American, an artist, a professional, a perhaps too rashly conscientious woman, deals over a number of years with the disappearance of her daughter -- a sort of adult bildungsroman. Reservoir 13, on the other hand, looks at how an entire village copes.

One of the writers in our group that year is a poet. Her work led me to be aware (in Reservoir 13) 1) of the poetic cadences of the waxing and waning seasons and 2) of the precarious denouement of relationships in a close, yet not quite closed, community over time. I came to particularly enjoy the former in reading R13 -- the alikenesses, the differences year-upon-year. That may come partly from my early life, which was much more seasonally driven than my adult life; this writing recalled those memories and added nuance to them. As a writer, how did McGregor manage the repetition; so much the same again and again, and yet not quite, not really, as he cycled the seasons past us.

If I find the time to fully reread as we discuss this, I think I shall take Paul's list of characters and try to at least roughly trace each one's story.


message 16: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie (readerjules) | 196 comments I am in the didn't like it camp. I attempted to read it this earlier this year and gave up. With no real plot and no character development, it eventually started to bore me and I couldn't see the point. It was just random stuff about random people (who I couldn't keep straight). I'm interested in seeing why those who loved it did.


message 17: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Julie wrote: "It was just random stuff about random people"
Sorry you saw it that way. I don't think there is anything random about it, and it is about so much more than the characters...


message 18: by James E. (new) - added it

James E. Martin | 76 comments Just finished Chapt . 1. I find the book to be very calm. It's written with great care, it seems to me. Lovely vivid portrait of small town life, which is also repetitive and sort of plotless.


Linda | 71 comments I'm going to start this tonight on audio with little knowledge besides the synopsis and that there is a clear divide between those who liked and and those who didn't. I will come back later and read the above comments when I have a bit more time.


message 20: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments I am feeling I should explain exactly why I liked this novel so much, because to me it is one of the best novels of the decade.

And it is precisely because it doesn't follow the conventions of most books, indeed I think McGregor has done something unique.

Yes the novel doesn't have a classical plot, or detailed character development but there are 999 other books that do that.

The great strength of the novel lies in the apparent repetition, the way it is built around the annual rhythm of the seasons and nature.

That rhythm may be most obvious is a rural setting - having grown up in an English village, life really does revolve around annual events like the Harvest Festival (think Thanksgiving but a whole community not a family gathering). But ultimately for everyone the passing of the seasons and the years does dictate our lives eg. despite all our 21st century technology we are all at the mercy of the weather.

And McGregor gives equal attention to the rhythms of the natural world as to those of the human characters - crops, flowers and trees, and wildlife - foxes, badgers, swallows and herons. And perhaps that is one of the novel's key messages - we are all part of nature.

Indeed the thing most missing from the novel is political developments in the world outside. McGregor deliberately and conveniently set in the years between two key events that would have had a real impact - the foot and mouth crisis of 2001 has passed and the 2016 Brexit vote is yet to come. Again I think part of the book's message is that much of what features in the news headlines is merely transient (yes even Trump or Brexit).

And in the apparent repetition there is progress. One fascination of the novel is to see how these key annual events in the village's life gradually evolve. For example, as you read watch how Mischief Night morphs into a much more American influenced Halloween.

McGregor also ditched the classic narrators of novels - either omniescent or privileged with one character's view. Instead what we primarily get is what is known or seen by the community as a whole.

One other thing worth adding is how much art went into constructing the novel, for example the many different 13s. Indeed the novel is a literal collage. McGregor wrote each character's (human or natural) part separately through the 13 years and then cut them up and pasted them together by year to get his framework for the novel.


message 21: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Thanks Paul - you put the case very well!


Stephen | 21 comments Finished this last night. As others have said a brilliant book


message 23: by Mari (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mari (silvicultrix) | 9 comments I've lurked in this group for a number of years and introduced myself in the introduction thread last year with the intention of participating in more group reads, but life got in the way...

Anyway, Reservoir 13 was my absolute favourite novel of 2017, so although I remember it quite well I'm planning on rereading to participate more fully in the discussion - this was one of those books that went to my to reread pile immediately upon first reading. Also one of the most atmospheric novels I'd read in a long time.


Bretnie | 599 comments Thank you for writing all of that out Paul - it makes me appreciate why people loved the book so much! Maybe I'll give it another chance in the future when my reading brain is in the right place for it.


message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Thanks. It isn't for everyone but I do love it.


message 26: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments On the collage point, I dug out what the author said as to how he wrote the book:

I wrote a series of texts for each character, animal, plant, weather condition, work routine, village tradition, location, etc (statisticians might care to know that there were 13 of these categories, with 13 examples in each category...) and once I was done I laid that text out across my timeline of 13 years. There were a lot of ring-binders involved, and scissors and Sellotape. It was rather chaotic, but I quite quickly landed on the rhythm I was looking for – the rhythm of the non-sequitur, where things are just happening one after the other and in fact one and the other at the same time, without having to gently guide the reader between events and observations. Readers are a lot smarter than writers sometimes think.


message 27: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Thanks Paul


message 28: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments I love that phrase: "the rhythm of the non sequitur".


message 29: by Hugh (last edited Aug 06, 2018 03:24AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
This is probably also the best place to summarise our experiences of McGregor's earlier books - I have read all of his fiction.

His debut novel If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things was very special to me at the time - it is a little flawed and uneven but contains some magical descriptive passages and is hugely accomplished for a book largely written when he was a student.

So Many Ways to Begin was more technically accomplished but rather dour, and for me difficult to love.

Even the Dogs is an extraordinary story of the lives of drug addicts, pretty tough to read in places but quite funny in others.

There is also a story collection This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You, which was stylistically varied, brilliant in places but a little uneven.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that for those of you who didn't get on with Reservoir 13, his writing is so varied and his books are all so different that you may well find others that you like more.


message 30: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments @26 Paul wrote: "On the collage point, I dug out what the author said as to how he wrote the book:

I wrote a series of texts for each character, animal, plant, weather condition, work routine, village tradition, l..."


Thank you so much for this entry, Paul! Very insightful! Relevant to process, structure, symbolism...


message 31: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Given Kris's background, I found this reader review of R13 particularly of interest: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Jon McGregor has just posted this on another website - recommendation for 5 other books set in small English/Welsh villages.

https://bookmarks.reviews/jon-mcgrego...

NB the form of these are all different to Reservoir 13, it is the setting they have in common.

I have recently read the last on his list- All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison (an ARC from Netgalley) and it was excellent.


Linda | 71 comments I am currently on chapter 5 and am now feeling the repetitive nature of the novel. I'm not yet sure where I fall in with it overall, though. I don't dislike it, and am not swooning either, but the slow pace and repetitiveness is very soothing to listen to (I'm reading via audiobook).

Like Peter mentioned above, I am also having a time keeping track of who is who. Thank you to Paul for creating, and Hugh for posting, the character list as I just came upon it as I am reading through these posts.

Thank you also, Hugh, for posting the various Wikipedia links and reviews. I will save the reviews for when I finish the book.

And finally thank you, Paul, for the info on how the author created the novel by writing each character separately and then creating a binder with the cut-and-paste pieces. So interesting to imagine the behind-the-scenes process.


message 34: by James E. (new) - added it

James E. Martin | 76 comments Thinking about the collage method, I am reminded that William S. Burroughs invented and used it with quite a different result. It would be interesting to explore this in depth.


message 35: by Marc (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2632 comments Mod
Fascinating thought, James! Seemed like Burroughs, as well as some of the Dadaists and Surrealists to an extent, used it to create new connections, strange creations, tension, and randomness. From Paul's quote, it seems like McGregor actually used it to make things seem more natural, almost to space out his details in rhythmic fashion. Using 13 as a kind of structure reminded me somewhat of the arbitrary constraints groups like Oulipo used (I'm a pretty big Calvino fan).

I always find the explanation of process interesting with any writer/artist, but, to me, this is certainly one of those books where the final work completely masks the process. The blending is seamless.


message 36: by Lily (last edited Aug 08, 2018 04:51PM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Marc wrote: "...this is certainly one of those books where the final work completely masks the process. The blending is seamless. ..."

I'll beg to disagree, or at least have a different reaction, Marc. For me, it often read like a poem or a song with multiple refrains repeated in variation. I was fascinated at the time; the description of the writing process makes obvious/logical what I "felt" while reading.


message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 181 comments Jon McGregor has just written a new Reservoir 13 short story in the form of a playlist

http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/a...


Whitney | 2102 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Jon McGregor has just written a new Reservoir 13 short story in the form of a playlist"

That's great, thanks for posting. I'm a little disappointed there aren't 13 songs.


message 39: by Lily (last edited Aug 08, 2018 08:04PM) (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Whitney wrote: "Paul wrote: "Jon McGregor has just written a new Reservoir 13 short story in the form of a playlist"

That's great, thanks for posting. I'm a little disappointed there aren't 13 songs."


LOL! I agree on the thanks for posting! I just listened to the clips, although not the full playlist. For me, just those sounds told a story, not unlike as did the yearly foxes and their kits.


message 40: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
Paul wrote: "Jon McGregor has just written a new Reservoir 13 short story in the form of a playlist

http://www.largeheartedboy.com/blog/a..."

Thanks Paul!


message 41: by Marc (last edited Aug 10, 2018 10:27AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Marc (monkeelino) | 2632 comments Mod
Lily wrote: "I'll beg to disagree, or at least have a different reaction, ..."
While I'd be happy to disagree because it usually leads to more interesting discussions, it sounds like knowing the process provided an explanation for the structure or rhythm of the text that you sensed/experienced (please correct me if I've misunderstood what you were saying); whereas, for me, I would have expected a much more disjointed narrative (in the style of Burrough's/Surrealist cut-up writing) and would never in a million years guessed at the process McGregor used. I'm glad he used it because I found the result rewarding, but I still can't look at the text and see the pieces (the way, say, one might be able to look at stitching and tell whether it was done by hand or machine)--there are no edges for me. He put things back together beautifully (at least, for me as a reader). More a blanket than a quilt.


message 42: by Hugh (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 2624 comments Mod
There is nothing random about the way McGregor rearranged his material - I think it is clear that he must have given this a lot of thought and spent a lot of time getting the rearrangement right.


message 43: by Lily (new) - added it

Lily (joy1) | 2471 comments Hugh wrote: "There is nothing random about the way McGregor rearranged his material - I think it is clear that he must have given this a lot of thought and spent a lot of time getting the rearrangement right."

I agree, but to use Marc's lovely image, I experienced the writing more as beautifully stitched quilt with its pieces fitted together into an intricate pattern than as a blanket woven with warp and welft. I felt as if I often had to discern the relevant pieces to identify the plot, especially the stories of the various individual characters. Some of the repetitions of nature were like the decorative stitching holding those pieces together -- and I was watching to see how/if the stitching did or didn't repeat.

(So much for playing with how this read for me....)


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Hugh wrote: "There is nothing random about the way McGregor rearranged his material - I think it is clear that he must have given this a lot of thought and spent a lot of time getting the rearrangement right."

Hugh, while I'm inclined to tend to agree with you in this, I'm not really sure we'd be able to tell if it was actually random. We humans are so good at finding patterns in things, that we tend to invent them even when there aren't any (see Apophenia.)


message 45: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 156 comments I just started listening to this today and look forward to a lively conversation in the spoiler threads as a result of looks like divided opinions on this book. Thanks for the warning, Hugh, about the repetitive nature and for the links about the area. And thanks, Paul, for the character list. I just picked up the print copy from my library because after listening to less than 5%, I've already decided I needed a character list. THANK YOU for saving me the time. (I had to create one for The Shadow of the Wind for a discussion I was moderating in another group, so I know how much goes into developing the list!)


message 46: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 156 comments Linda wrote: "I am currently on chapter 5 and am now feeling the repetitive nature of the novel. I'm not yet sure where I fall in with it overall, though. I don't dislike it, and am not swooning either, but the ..."

I started this in audio and got a print copy from the library at chapter 4! The changing topic every few sentences without warning made it too disorienting to me and I was using my 30 second rewind button way to often! With that said, I thought the narrator was excellent.


Linda | 71 comments Suzy wrote: "I started this in audio and got a print copy from the library at chapter 4! The changing topic every few sentences without warning made it too disorienting to me and I was using my 30 second rewind button way to often! With that said, I thought the narrator was excellent."

I'm curious what the print edition looks like, it didn't sound like the typical formatting with paragraphs and such? Luckily I didn't find the audio difficult to follow, I think because the narrator was clear and read at a good pace. Not too fast for me, but I still did my fair share of rewinding to catch every bit. But I do that with most of my audiobooks. :)


Peter Aronson (peteraronson) | 516 comments Linda wrote: "I'm curious what the print edition looks like, it didn't sound like the typical formatting with paragraphs and such?"

Large blocks of sentences without any subdivision, occasionally collected in chapters (each of which compile the events of a year).


message 49: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 156 comments Linda wrote: "Suzy wrote: "I started this in audio and got a print copy from the library at chapter 4! The changing topic every few sentences without warning made it too disorienting to me and I was using my 30 ..."

Ha! Me too . . . about the rewinding, but not usually so much as I did with this one. I'm glad I listened for a while though to catch the rhythm of the writing. It feels a little like a long song, sung by many voices of the village even though it's written in 3rd person.

See Peter's response about the print book.


message 50: by Suzy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Suzy (goodreadscomsuzy_hillard) | 156 comments Peter wrote: "Linda wrote: "I'm curious what the print edition looks like, it didn't sound like the typical formatting with paragraphs and such?"

Large blocks of sentences without any subdivision, occasionally ..."


Thanks! I hadn't caught yet that each chapter is about one year since the girl went missing.


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