McGregor revisits the world of his Costa Award–winning novel, Reservoir 13 (2017), grimly complicating everything.
This novel and its predecessor are organized around the same mystery: A 13-year-old girl named Rebecca Shaw has disappeared while walking on an English moor with her mom and dad. The parent novel then glides omnisciently through village life for the next 13 years, describing divorces, death, the changing seasons, and dreams haunted by Becky Shaw. It is a lyric experiment, with the details of an almanac or poetic gossip rag, and it is at once mesmerizing and subtly tragic: Lives unfold impassively, with a minimum of both intention and result, while the reservoirs swell with rain and foxes give birth and Becky slowly fades from memory. Now, in this companion volume, McGregor has taken a different approach, brilliantly repainting (in mostly darker hues) a village we thought we knew. The book’s conceit is introduced in the first chapter: In the wake of Becky’s disappearance an interviewer arrives to collect stories and “help to build a picture.” The following 14 chapters are those stories, rendered in an urgent, close third-person. In some we meet Becky alive, a precocious “live wire” who leaps into a flooded quarry, smears dirt onto a self-conscious boy’s face, and steals an apple from an old woman’s garden. In others we are offered glimpses of her possible fates: stumbled into a sinkhole, run away from home, fallen afoul of the “bogeyman figure” who’s briefly suspected by the police in the early pages of Reservoir 13. But, as with its predecessor, this book is not singly concerned with Becky. In fact, her disappearance is used—by the narrator in Reservoir 13, by the interviewer in its sequel—as an excuse for observation, a reason to listen to the gossip and mark the seasons, a reason to dive beneath the surface of a place to grapple with the lives and stories transpiring there.
On its own, this book is a noteworthy event. When put in conversation with Reservoir 13, it is nothing short of a remarkable experiment in storytelling. McGregor is a must-read writer.