The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

Returning us to the extraordinary territory of Jon McGregor’s Man Booker Prize long-listed novel Reservoir 13The Reservoir Tapes take us deep into the heart of an English village that is trying to come to terms with what has happened on its watch.

A teenage girl has gone missing. The whole community has been called upon to join the search. And now an interviewer arrives, intent on capturing the community’s unstable stories about life in the weeks and months before Becky Shaw vanished.

Each villager has a memory to share or a secret to conceal, a connection to Becky that they are trying to make or break. A young wife pushes against the boundaries of her marriage, and another seeks a means of surviving within hers. A group of teenagers dare one another to jump into a flooded quarry, the weakest swimmer still awaiting his turn. A laborer lies trapped under rocks and dry limestone dust as his fellow workers attempt a risky rescue. And meanwhile a fractured portrait of Becky emerges at the edges of our vision—a girl swimming, climbing, and smearing dirt onto a scared boy’s face, images to be cherished and challenged as the search for her goes on.

My Review

‘The Reservoir Tapes’ are a companion piece to Jon McGregor’s novel, ‘Reservoir 13’, that was long listed for the 2017 Booker Prize. ‘Reservoir 13’ was my favourite of all the long listed books and I was disappointed when it didn’t emerge the eventual winner that year.

‘The Reservoir Tapes’ were initially commissioned by BBC radio as short radio pieces that act as a prequel to ‘Reservoir 13’.

In ‘Reservoir 13’ we were introduced to the inhabitants of a quiet English village that were all reeling from the impact of the effects of the disappearance of a young girl named Becky. In that main book the events took place over the course of thirteen years following the mysterious and tragic occurrence with each chapter taking place over the course of a single year. This format gave the ‘Reservoir 13’ a beautiful ebb and flow of natural life as people moved in and out of the village. There were births, deaths, marriages etc with a purposeful lack of focus on any specific character that gave the book the feeling that as a reader you were quietly eavesdropping on the village as a whole.

‘The Reservoir Tapes’ differs in that it is a collection of short stories that, in contrast, focus entirely on specific characters most of whom appear in some guise in ‘Reservoir 13’. There are fifteen short stories in total each following a distinct character in a variety of events both preceding (in the longterm and short term) and in the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of Becky. And yet, it being a snapshot of village life, the stories are loosely interconnected as the collection is revealed to be the village’s story as opposed to any one person’s tale. When you step back from the book you can see all the different threads being woven to create a piece about the connectivity of everyday living in this community.

This being Jon McGregor the prose is absolutely stunning. He can capture the ordinariness of people with the most beautiful and yet stunningly simple turns of phrase. As with ‘Reservoir 13’ this collection feels almost ethereal in its beauty as it contrasts the flaws and sometimes coldness of everyday living with rich-feeling prose.

There was a gap of approximately 9 months (and the reading of at least a hundred other books) between when I read ‘Reservoir 13’ and this collection of short stories so I had very much forgotten the names of the individual characters and what roles they had exactly played in the main book. However this did not diminish my enjoyment of the short stories in any way. The first story, about Charlotte, really grabbed my attention and brought me straight back into the world of ‘Reservoir 13’.

As is to be expected I loved some stories more than others and was most moved by the ones featuring Charlotte, Clive, Donna and Jess. Other stories such as the one featuring Martin and Stephanie left me with a distinctly unsettled feeling that gave me great pause for thought. My least favourite was probably Vicky’s. However, it must be said that each story caught my attention and made me feel something; whether that was moved to tears or uneasy due to the callousness of humanity. I found this to be quite impressive as each story was relatively short.

I would recommend ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ to anyone who was a fan of the original novel Reservoir 13 as I thoroughly enjoyed my sojourn back to that quiet, unnamed English village and the beauty of the ordinary people found therein. I am rating it a very strong and very positive three and a half stars rounded up to a four.

If you have not yet read ‘Reservoir 13’ then I wholeheartedly urge you to pick up a copy and read it as soon as you can as it is a thoroughly rewarding read for anyone who is a lover of beautiful prose.

E-copies of both ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ and ‘Reservoir 13’ were kindly provided to me by the publisher, Harper Collins UK: 4th Estate, via NetGalley in exchange for honest reviews.

Click HERE to read my review of ‘Reservoir 13’.

Click HERE to head to the BBC Radio website where depending on your geographic location you may be able to listen to the original radio production of these stories.

12 thoughts on “The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor – Book Review

    1. Oh I highly recommend reservoir 13. It is one of my favourite literary novels in recent years. McGregor showed such restraint in that novel, the characters were almost spartan and yet at the same time entirely tangible… and the prose… such lyrical delights. He truly is a master crafter when it comes to storytelling

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