McGregor's remarkable achievement in this novel long-listed for the 2017 Man Booker Prize is the flammable combination of his intimacy and his distance. He is daring in never mentioning Reservoir 13 again after naming his novel after it and insinuating, merely by its prominence, that it had something to do with the disappearance of Rebecca, or Becky, or Bex, the 13-year-old girl who disappeared one year and was never accounted for, though she’d been looked for and not forgotten for the thirteen years of this novel.
The book is a slow burn, like fire in peat, smoke hinting at fire somewhere, though pinpointing the source is difficult. McGregor is an impassive observer with no dog in any fight, recognizing the churn of seasons and families and friends, and recording how lovers grew apart and found new lovers, or did not, or how difficult it is to keep an allotment well-weeded and producing. Except that the story was his to create and so he must have had some reason for choosing the threads as they crossed, their color and texture and placement. In the end, this diet of village life recorded in the most entrancing language fills one with surprise, curiosity, delight, and despair.
Wondering, once finished, how this book was received by critics, I came upon a review by Maureen Corrigan in The Washington Post in which she says
“Those bland details of everyday life fill McGregor’s mammoth paragraphs like foam insulation being sprayed into walls.”That made me laugh. She was the one to point out that the girl was thirteen when she went missing, and the time recorded in this novel is thirteen years. I would have thought it was much longer. It felt longer. I started noticing the time I spent reading, and treated myself to an occasional skim, just to see if I could uncover his mystery before I succumbed to numbing despair.
I admire McGregor's prose immensely and like his idea. It was a risky thing, this novel. I am pleased his daring and initiative was recognized by the Man Booker Prize committee.
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