Reservoir logs

29 07 2017

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Rightly long listed for the Man Booker prize this year, this is a terrific book and would have been a worthy winner had it made it to the shortlist. However, I’m sure it will do well in subsequent awards, especially coffee-themed ones.

 

At its heart this is a mystery in which a teenage girl goes missing in the countryside, sparking a major search and media focus on a quiet village. Everyone joins in the hunt for a while, but life has to carry on and gradually things seem to get back to normal. However, nothing can ever be the same again. Year in, year out, everyone goes about their business, but the disappearance seems to infect every part of village and country life. It’s a beautifully written, deceptively transparent and perfectly paced novel. This is the fourth novel from McGregor, professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham, and it is undoubtedly his best. Pastoral and poetic, powerful and deep, it is a truly outstanding work and certainly the best novel I’ve read this year.

One of the few copies of the book in which the author included a line from ‘On the Ball City’

 

NB This review previously appeared in THE’s ‘What are you reading?’

 

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Stories from before

31 03 2019

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor

 

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

But the aftershocks of Becky Shaw’s disappearance have origins long before then, and those in the village have losses, and secrets, and stories of their own…

A woman remembers a son’s inexperience – and a father’s rage; a young wife pushes against the boundaries of her marriage, whilst an older one finds ways to ensure the survival of hers. A hunt for a birthday present takes an alarming turn, and a teenage game grows serious.

Fresh hurts open old wounds, salvation comes from unexpected quarters and chance encounters release long-buried memories.

First broadcast as a series of specially commissioned stories on BBC Radio 4, The Reservoir Tapesreturns to the territory of the Booker-longlisted Reservoir 13, revealing the web of connections that bind us, and the many layers on which we all build our truths.

Written in the same precise, spare and powerful style as Reservoir 13, there is nothing not to admire about this prequel which comprises a set of stories foreshadowing that novel’s narrative strands. It’s an outstanding read, as ever with McGregor, and highly recommended therefore.

 





Going Underground

19 08 2017

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

It’s hard to argue with the brief Barack Obama assessment on the front cover here, this really is a terrific book. It’s thrilling, horrific in places and brilliantly imaginative and overall a completely compelling and deep story. Rightly long listed for the 2017 Man Booker and should be a tight battle with the superb Reservoir 13.

four stars





Lucky 13 – Anticipatory Book Review

30 01 2017

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

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Early Amazon Reviews are mixed. I don’t know how people got hold of the book (not out until April) but they don’t seem to have been very well chosen given the range of comments. I tried to add my review but prevented from doing so on a technicality so have posted here.

I’ve had only limited access to this novel. Just the title in fact. I invited the author to furnish me with a copy for review purposes but he suggested I take it one step at a time and just stick with reviewing the title.

There are lots of reservoirs on Amazon: hydration water bladders, ion reservoirs, Reservoir Dogs, a liquid cooling system reservoir and even a Triumph reservoir sock. there are also quite a few albums called this, a number of books and even a Zanussi tumble dryer reservoir flange.

The nearest reservoir to where I grew up was called the Whiteadder Reservoir, my Dad used to live near Edgbaston reservoir and I always like hearing about John Shuttleworth’s visits to measure the level of Ladybower Reservoir.

Some other movies and books featuring numbers include Apollo 13, Starter for 10, Friday 13th, Studio 54,  Magnificent 7, Super 8, Ocean’s 11, Death Race 2000 and The Hateful 8. And while we’re on Tarantino, can it be a coincidence that McGregor has two words in the titles of his novels which make up one of Tarantino’s movie titles and that he writes Fiction (although not Pulp).

But none of these gets anywhere near to the new novel by Jon McGregor, the “absurdly gifted” (Guardian) novelist. Or its title, at least. Looking forward to reading the remainder of the words in the book in due course. In the meantime, it’s full marks from me.

5 star

 








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