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 visiona 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.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The ﬁrst Vicky knew about it was when the girl’s parents came bursting into the pub.
The two of them were both talking at once and it took a minute to work out what they were saying. They couldn’t ﬁnd her, was the gist of it.
Their anoraks were covered in mud, so it wasn’t much of a leap to guess they meant someone was missing on the hills. Tony had Mountain Rescue on the phone while they were still getting their breath back. Vicky could feel herself tensing up, the way she did, now, at any mention of emergency services.
She’s thirteen, they said. Her name’s Becky. We only lost sight of her for a moment and then she vanished. We’ve looked everywhere.
Tony told them Mountain Rescue were asking for locations, and they didn’t seem to have a clue. They’d been trying to get to Black Bull Rocks, they told him.
Vicky was sitting near the bar, with Graham. Black Bull Rocks was at the far eastern end of the ridge, above the visitor centre where Vicky and Graham worked. Graham caught her eye. In this weather? they were both thinking. At this time of year?
Some of the people who came here had no idea what they were doing on the hills. Vicky dealt with a fair number of them at the visitor centre: people who didn’t know how to read a map, or think to check the weather forecast. People who assumed there would be a mobile-phone signal when they got lost. At least if they called in to the centre there was a chance to set them straight. It was the ones who marched straight past they had to worry about. And she did worry, often.
Tony held the phone away from his ear and said Mountain Rescue were asking for a description, and the parents looked stumped for a minute.
She’s about this tall, the father said, holding his hand to the top of his chest. Dark-blonde hair, down to her shoulders. No glasses. She looks older than thirteen. She’s wearing a white hooded top and a navy-blue body-warmer. Black jeans and canvas shoes.
The mother wasn’t saying anything much. She looked lost. She looked like someone who had just stood next to a loud noise and was waiting for her hearing to come back.
Tony got ﬁnished on the phone and said things would get sorted quickly now, and not to worry. Someone from Mountain Rescue would be in and wanting to take them out in the Land Rover, he said. He told them there was a back room available, so they could sit in peace. He nodded at one of the other staﬀ to sort some drinks, asking them what they wanted.
Her name’s Becky, the mother suddenly said. Becky Shaw. Rebecca, really.
Don’t worry, Tony told them, as he started leading them oﬀ. They’re good lads, Mountain Rescue. They know what they’re doing. They’ll ﬁnd her.
Vicky thought he might regret saying that. She had a bad feeling already. She got these feelings. It really wasn’t Tony’s place to go oﬀering that kind of a promise.
Of course, people started talking then, once Tony had the parents in the back room. The family had been staying up at the Hunters’ new barn conversions, Irene said. She remembered the girl from back in the summer. Irene did the cleaning for most of the holiday lets in the village, and she tended to pick things up as she went. She said the family were from somewhere down south, and she wasn’t sure what the parents did but they seemed like the professional type. Both of them working, so the girl must have been used to going oﬀ on her own. She spent a lot of time with Sophie, the Hunters’ daughter. Same age, give or take.
Martin Fowler chipped in and said he remembered the two of them hanging around the village as well. Used to see them with the Broad lad, he said, and Sean Hooper’s son, and what’s his name, Deepak. She was a livewire, someone else said. There was talk of them messing around at the reservoirs. They’d been seen swimming at the quarry.
This type of conversation went on for a while.
One thing Vicky had learnt when she moved up here was that people liked to talk. Information got around quickly, and if people didn’t have actual facts they seemed very capable of ﬁlling in the gaps. She’d more than once had to deny being pregnant, after being seen with orange juice in the pub. Saying she didn’t drink wasn’t enough of an answer. Eventually she’d just announced that she was a recovering alcoholic every time someone tried to buy her a pint. That usually put a stop to the questions.
Assumptions were made about her and Graham as well. We’re just colleagues, actually, she often had to say. We’ve known each other a while, we’re good friends, but that’s all. People sometimes had an infuriating way of nodding patiently when she said this, but she’d learnt to let it go.
She’d known Graham for a long time. They’d been at college together, when they were younger. They’d studied conservation management, but when the course ﬁnished he was the one who moved up to Derbyshire and found actual conservation work. She moved down to London instead, where she worked in bars, went to a lot of parties, and got into a bit of trouble. They kept in touch, on and oﬀ. He told her about the work he was doing for the National Park, and encouraged her to visit. She told him stories about what she was up to in London. She’d thought they were funny stories, at the time, but his responses often involved asking if she was really okay.
She never knew how he’d found her in the hospital. She just knew that each time she woke up, and remembered what had happened all over again, he was there. He told her he’d thought something like this was going to happen, and she told him there was no need to be a smart-arse about it.
It hurt when she laughed, for a long time.
People asked, later, what it had felt like to be in a car crash, and she had to say that she had no idea. It wasn’t frightening. She didn’t feel any pain. She was lifted out through the window of her car. She was wet all over, and very cold. There were ﬂashing blue lights. She could remember getting into a ﬁght at a party, but nothing after that. There were a lot of ﬁghts, in those days. She wasn’t a good person to be around. People round here wouldn’t believe it, if they knew.
By the time she got out of the hospital, Graham had persuaded her to leave London and move up here. He told her she needed to clear her head, to get back to doing something she loved and get some fresh air in her lungs. He didn’t really take no for an answer. She was surprised by his directness, and she went along with it because she didn’t know what else to do. He was the only one who’d come to see her in the hospital.
Usually, when the Mountain Rescue team got up on the hills, they found who they were looking for. They were all local, and they knew the place like their own back yards. They had a good sense of which way people would head when they got lost and in a panic. They knew where people would try and hide when the weather closed in, and where the likely falling places were.
But this was starting to turn out diﬀerently.
Vicky and Graham had been asked to open up the visitor centre, for use as an operations base, and over the course of the evening it kept getting busier. The police arrived, and a second Mountain Rescue team were called in. When Vicky brought fresh pots of coﬀee into the room where they’d spread out the maps she heard someone talk about expanding the search zone, which she guessed meant they had very little idea where the girl might be. It was going to be a long night. There were ﬂashing blue lights outside, and helicopters overhead.
At one point Vicky saw the girl’s parents again, being escorted into the map room by a police oﬃcer. They weren’t in there for long, and were soon escorted out again and into a waiting car. A ripple of silence followed them through the building, as though people were afraid to say the wrong thing in their presence. She’d seen something like this before. The way people kept their distance, as if grief was contagious.
She wanted to go out to the car and tell them they weren’t alone. But they were, of course.
She realised that grief was probably the wrong word to use about what was happening just yet. But it had been hours already and the weather was only getting worse.
Irene arrived later in the evening, carrying bags of shopping into the tiny kitchen at the back of the visitor centre. Right then, she said, unpacking the bags. It’s Vicky, isn’t it? I’ve got enough here for six dozen bacon cobs. I’ll slice, you spread.
She looked over at Graham, standing behind Irene. He shrugged, making a face to say that there was no point arguing. They’d got the hang of doing this, communicating with glances and nods, over the heads of colleagues and members of the public. They’d reached a kind of understanding. He passed her the butter, and reached up for the frying pans.
By morning there were police vans parked all along the verges down the lane. The road had been closed, and there were torchlights ﬂashing through the beech wood across the way. There were dogs barking.
Graham and Vicky were outside, taking a break, sheltering from the rain under the entrance-way roof. The blue lights and the police radios were making her think of the night of the accident again. Graham asked if she was okay. She looked at him. She wanted a cigarette. She wanted a drink.
I’m ﬁne, she said. Tired.
That would seem reasonable under the circumstances, he said.
They watched more cars pulling into the car park. A helicopter passed by overhead.
I’ve arranged for the Cardwell team to come and take over, he said. I think we’ve done our share. Could I perhaps interest you in some breakfast?
She smiled. She was very cold. Yes, Graham, she said. You can interest me in some breakfast.
When they got to the house, Vicky took a shower while Graham started cooking. She was trembling and she felt a little sick and she knew she needed to eat. These were her vulnerable moments. They’d talked about these at the group. She felt bad for worrying about herself, with everything that was going on, but she also knew she had no choice. At the group they talked about putting on your own oxygen mask ﬁrst.
While she was drying herself she felt dizzy and she had to sit down. Graham had lent her an old ﬂeece and a pair of walking trousers to wear. They smelt musty and they were too big but they were at least clean. She felt comfortable in them.
In the kitchen Graham was just putting the breakfast out on the table. The radio was on and they were talking about the missing girl.
Suits you, he said, glancing up at her outﬁt. She sat down.
She wanted to say something about the girl’s mother. She could feel her eyes starting to sting. She looked at him. There was a question in his expression but she couldn’t read it.
Tea’s in the pot, he said.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Jon McGregor
“A fiercely intelligent writer. . . . Astonishing.” George Saunders
“A writer who will make a significant stamp on world literature. In fact, he already has.” Colum McCann
“A terrifyingly ingenious writer.” Yiyun Li
“Jon McGregor writes with frightening intelligence and impeccable technique. Every page is a revelation.” Teju Cole
“If you don’t yet know you should read books by Jon McGregor, then I can’t help you.” Evie Wyld
“He’s an extraordinary writer, unlike anyone else.” Paula Hawkins
“He leaves behind all other writers of his generation.” Sarah Hall
“McGregor is a writer with extraordinary control. . . . Enthralling and brilliant.” Tessa Hadley
PRAISE FOR RESERVOIR 13 BY JON MCGREGOR
A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice
An Amazon Best Book of the Year
A Barnes & Noble Best Book of 2017
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017
Shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2017
A Kirkus Best Book of 2017
A Los Angeles Review Best Book of the Year
"McGregor's book achieves a visionary power . . . he has written a novel with a quiet but insistently demanding, even experimental form. The word “collage” implies something static and finally fixed, but the beauty of “ Reservoir 13 ” is in fact rhythmic, musical, ceaselessly contrapuntal . . . A remarkable achievement [and a] subtle unravelling of what we think of as the conventional project of the novel." James Wood, The New Yorker
"McGregor is a beautiful, controlled writer, who can convey the pathos of a life in a few lines. Despite the large cast of characters, each feels specific and real. . . . [An] unconventional but affecting novel." The New York Times Book Review
"Fiercely intelligent. . . . [An] astonishing new novel . . . strange, daring, and very moving. . . . The book is a rare and dazzling feat of art that also (in my reading of it) outs us, in a gentle way, for a certain gratuitous drama-seeking tendency we all tend to have as readersa tendency that makes it harder to see the very real, consequential, beautiful, and human-scaled dramas occurring all around is in real life, in every moment (in nature, in human affairs)." George Saunders, The Paris Review Daily
“The novel that blew me away this year was Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13. It’s one of the most finely wrought books I’ve read in recent years. Only an extraordinarily accomplished writer can create, and people, a world with such linguistic restraint yet to such moving, even haunting, effect. It’s a slow burn and deeply satisfying.” Eimear McBride, "Who Read What in 2017," The Wall Street Journal
"Disturbing, one-of-a-kind . . . Most books involving crime and foul play provide the consolation of some sort of resolution. But Mr. McGregor's novel, which was long-listed for this year's Man Booker Prize, shows how life, however unsettlingly, continues in the absence of such explanation." Tom Nolan, Wall Street Journal
"An intricate and absorbing mosaic-like structure of miniature stories, scenes and snapshots. . . . While Reservoir 13 starts out with the familiar hallmarks of a crime novel, it quickly develops into a quite different literary beast, one that acquires power and depth through bold form and style, not gripping drama and suspense. . . . This is unconventional storytelling, a daring way to tell a tale, but one that yields haunting and stimulating results." Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
“An ambitious tour de force that demands the reader’s attention; those willing to follow along will be rewarded with a singular and haunting story.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Meticulously crafted . . . A stunningly good, understated novel told in a mesmerizing voice.” Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"McGregor masterfully employs a free, indirect style that forgoes quotation marks and seamlessly blends narrative, dialogue, and wonderfully observant, poetic musings. . . . Longlisted for the Man Booker, McGregor’s novel’s subtly devastating impact ultimately imparts wisdom about the tenuous and priceless gift of life. For fans of Elizabeth Strout and Richard Russo." Booklist (starred review)
"The writing is extraordinary." Library Journal (starred review)
"Jon McGregor has revolutionized that most hallowed of mystery plots: the one where some foul deed takes place in a tranquil English village that, by the close of the case, doesn’t feel so tranquil anymore. . . . McGregor’s writing style is ingenious." Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post
"McGregor’s lyrical prose and sense of detail totally immerse the reader." BookPage
"A wonderful book. [Jon McGregor]'s an extraordinary writer, unlike anyone else." Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train and Into the Water
"A new novel from the absurdly gifted Jon McGregor, seven years after the IMPAC-winning Even the Dogs, Reservoir 13 is haunting and heartbreaking, the tale of a disappearance and its aftermathhis best yet." The Guardian, “Fiction to look out for in 2017”
" 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 stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside." The Rumpus
"Jon McGregor's haunting mystery novel about the ways in which we measure our lives will get under your skin. Let it." Bustle
"Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 [is] filled with things I wish I’d written; not mere cleverness, but cool and capacious intelligence." Teju Cole, Faber Social
“Jon McGregor has been quietly building a reputation as one of the outstanding writers of his generation since 2002, when he became the youngest writer to be longlisted for the Booker prize... Reservoir 13 is an extraordinary achievement; a portrait of a community that leaves the reader with an abiding affection for its characters, because we recognise their follies and frailties and the small acts of kindness and courage that bind them together.” Observer (UK)
“Fascinating... McGregor is a writer with extraordinary control… Reservoir 13 is an enthralling and brilliant investigation of disturbing elements embedded deeply in our story tradition.” Tessa Hadley, The Guardian
‘’He excels at charting how, over the years, relationships fray, snap or twine together…There are images Seamus Heaney might have coveted… Making clarity gleam with poetry, McGregor again highlights the remarkable in the everyday.” The Sunday Times (UK)
“Award-winning Jon McGregor defies expectations with this superbly crafted and mesmerizingly atmospheric portrait of an unnamed village ... Unsentimental and occasionally very funny, this is a haunting, beautiful book.” Daily Mail
“This is above all a work of intense, forensic noticing: an unobtrusively experimental, thickly atmospheric portrait of the life of a village which, for its mixture of truthfulness and potency, deserves to be set alongside the works of such varied brilliance as Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, Jim Crace’s Harvest and Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.” Times Literary Supplement
“Even by the standards of his mature work, McGregor’s latest novel is a remarkable achievement… Fluid and fastidious, its sparing loveliness feels deeply true to its subject. There are moments, as in life, of miraculous grace, but no more than that… a humane and tender masterpiece.” Irish Times
“ Reservoir 13 leaves the reader feeling mesmerised, disconcerted and with senses oddly heightened, as if something had walked over their own grave.” The Australian
"Jon McGregor is a terrifyingly ingenious writer. He brings to his writing not only the gift of seeing and imagining, but the capacity of hypothesizing and hypnotizing. Reservoir 13 allures readers into an engrossing journey only to end within ourselves, where reality is the darkest fairytale." Yiyun Li, PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author of Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life
“ Reservoir 13 is quite extraordinarythe way it’s structured, the way it rolls, the skill with which Jon McGregor lets the characters breathe and age. It’s like watching more than a decade of living from a slow-moving train.” Roddy Doyle, Man Booker Prize-winning author of Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
" Reservoir 13 is a masterfully paced and grippingly controlled read that finds the shadows, the wildness, in the ordinary heart of a community." Colin Barrett, Rooney Prize-winning author of Young Skins
"Absolutely magnificent; one of the most beautiful, affecting novels I've read in years. The prose is alive and ringing. There is so much space and life in every sentence. I don't know how he's done it. It's beautiful." Eimear McBride, Baileys Women’s Prize-winning author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing
"If you don't yet know you should read novels by Jon McGregor, then I can't help you." Evie Wyld, Miles Franklin Award-winning author of All the Birds, Singing
“Quite unlike anything I have read before. McGregor writes with rare elegance and integrity. If people were not already aware that here is one of our most accomplished living writers, they certainly will be now.” Sarah Perry, author of The Essex Serpent
"If more proof were needed that Jon McGregor is one of the finest and most versatile novelists writing today, this is it. Reservoir 13 is a unique feat of communitarian storytelling, full of humanity, humility, drama and mystery. Turning within a natural almanac, the lives of its characters ebb and flow as the years pass, as they encounter tragedy, conflict, the best and worst aspects of each other. It's rare to find a writer with symmetry and understanding of both the natural world and its residents - especially the edgelands - rarer still to find an author of such compassionate reach and existential balance, but McGregor writes with such grace and precision, with love even, about who and where we are, that he leaves behind all other writers of his generation." Sarah Hall, Betty Trask Award-winning author of The Wolf Border
More Praise for Jon McGregor
“Jon McGregor is a writer who will make a significant stamp on world literature. In fact, he already has.” Colum McCann
“Jon McGregor writes with frightening intelligence and impeccable technique. Every page is a revelation.” Teju Cole
“Jon McGregor’s stories are full of unremarkable landscape, destabilizing drama, and people pinned in place by themselves. But they gleam with endearing detail. His writing is unnerving, unconventional and lovely.” Leanne Shapton
“These stories are illuminated by Jon McGregor’s fearless and humane imagination. Both tragic and comic, they form a polyphonic portrait of a people and a place. Exhilarating.” Katie Kitamura
“Jon McGregor's uncanny stories linger long after you have finished them. He quietly inserts distinct, convincing voices into vivid and compelling landscapes.” ―Dana Spiotta
Praise for THIS ISN’T THE SORT OF THING THAT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE LIKE YOU: STORIES (2012)
“30 electric tales . . . This is a book of ominous preludes and chilling aftermaths . . . McGregor stealthily commands our active engagement, scattering crumbs of data for us to pick through, gumshoe-style.” ― New York Times Book Review
“Each tale in this slim, elegant book does something most of us wish would happen to us in real life: It stops us in a humdrum moment and reveals how that small, unnoticed sliver of time can illuminate an entire life . . . Magic.” ―Oprah.com, Book of the Week
”Jon McGregor's uncanny stories linger long after you have finished them. He quietly inserts distinct, convincing voices into vivid and compelling landscapes. This original, beautiful, and haunting book totally captivated me.” ―Dana Spiotta, author of Innocents and Others and National Book Award Finalist Eat the Document
“John McGregor is one of the UK's most fascinating and versatile writers. The fact that most American readers have never heard of him does not speak well of us. Let's all buy his book NOW.” ―Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
“These stories by Jon McGregor feel as if they are made half of words and half of the earth. They are elegant, understated, sometimes wry, and yet full of the drama and passion of life.” ―Matthew Sharpe, author of You Were Wrong
Praise for EVEN THE DOGS (2010)
“As a novel about the consequences of addictionparticularly heroin addiction Even the Dogs is harrowing. It details the physical, psychological, social and environmental damage, and portrays the all-consuming nature of the life . . . Using ghosts as narrators gives the book a haunting overtone. It lends resonance even to a simple observation like 'We see things differently now.' And it lets McGregor write with a gritty omniscience.” ― New York Times Book Review
“Ambitious, haunting . . . thought-provoking.” ― Boston Globe
“A rare combination of profound empathy and wonderful writing.” ―Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
“Those who enjoyed Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Requiem for a Dream" will value the style and the subject matter.” ― Library Journal
“McGregor succeeds in paying homage to the dispossessed and the hopeless, who live and die on the margins of society.” ― Booklist
“McGregor puts the reader into the minds of this interconnected web of people bent on various journeys of self-destruction. He constructs a powerful, disjointed narrative about dependency that is nearly impossible to put down, though it's not easy reading.” ―PopMatters
“Absolutely OUTSTANDING . . . Jon McGregor is a writer who will make a significant stamp on world literature. In fact, he already has . . . an incredible book, I just adored it.” Colum McCann, National Book Award-winning author of Let The Great World Spin
Praise for IF NOBODY SPEAKS OF REMARKABLE THINGS (2002)
"McGregor's publishers must be openly rejoicing . . . If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things is the work of a burning new talent." Elizabeth Buchan, Daily Mail (UK)
"Mcgregor is an exemplary archivist of the humdrum . . .someone who detects so passionately the remarkable in the everyday." The Spectator (UK)
"You won't read anything much more poignant than this." Daily Telegraph (UK)