‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor – The Human Part of Nature


‘Reservoir 13’ by Jon McGregor   (2017) – 290 pages

‘Reservoir 13’ begins with the disappearance of thirteen year-old girl Rebecca Shaw from a small English village.  However the novel does not turn into a mystery attempting to explain the girl’s disappearance. Instead ‘Reservoir 13’ becomes something much more than that.

It is a partial record of the events that transpire for the various townspeople after the disappearance, often the amorous events of these men and women, young and old.  Life goes on.

This may not seem like much but let me explain.

McGregor views the people of this rural village with the same calm steady keenly observant attitude with which he observes the trees, the birds, the fish, and the other animals.  His view appears to be that we humans are as much a part of nature as everything else.

This is an important lesson.

He mentions the births, the deaths, the getting together and the parting of the ways of the various townspeople.  No person is more important or less important than the others.  Just like the plants and the animals, we go about our various affairs.

“There was rain for most of the day and snow on the higher ground.  The tips of the new-growth heather could just be reached through the snow.  Wood pigeons came out into the gardens where feed was put out and were often chased away.”

McGregor describes the doings of the townspeople in the same steadfast methodical tone he uses for the plants and animals.

“At the school there had been talk that either James Broad or Liam, or both, had once slept with Becky Shaw.  That talk seemed malicious and unlikely.  Sophie and Lynsey wanted to know where the talk had come from and James told them he didn’t want to fucking think about it.  Sophie tried to give him a hug but he shook her off.  Liam threw stones into the water.”

Don’t even try to keep track of the stories of all of the various townspeople who are mentioned in ‘Reservoir 13’.  There are just too many things going on with way too many people to follow them all.  That is not the point of ‘Reservoir 13’.

What is the point of ‘Reservoir 13’?  For me it is that we humans are just as much a part of nature as the plants and animals.  Our matings and our partings are just as subject to the rules of nature as those of the other plants and animals.  This undeniable fact is both reassuring and frightening.

Even if life may have come to an abrupt end for someone else, daily life goes on for the rest of us.


Grade:   A


13 responses to this post.

  1. The concept of this book sounds refreshing. I always find it so interesting to just sit back and observe as life goes on around me. Including the plants, animals, insects and humans. Interesting review.



  2. I think that message about daily life moving on is an important one. For those who loved the missing one, nothing changes their grief, but they also have to learn to live with their loss fading out of everyone else’s consciousness too. But McGregor is saying, I think, that hard as it is, it’s as it should be, because we cannot all be burdened with all that grief forever… that way lies madness, so nature shows us the way.



    • Hi Lisa,
      There are a couple of woman vicars who live in the town in the novel, but there is no talk of God or Jesus. The emphasis is on the natural world, what the birds and fishes and plants and humans are doing. I suppose the novel could be described as naturalistic.



  3. So glad you enjoyed this. It was one of my two favourite books from last year. I thought he did a wonderful job of showing the cycle of life by repeating certain phrases but with a twist each time. have you listened to the podcasts which extend the story – very interesting

    Liked by 1 person


  4. Interesting review. You make it sound almost pagan, which is itself interesting. You seem to have a better cover too – I’m tempted by this but every cover I see has the awards it’s won printed on it (or in the case of the kindle version literally made part of the title). It makes the cover feel a bit hectoring.

    I should still probably read it though.

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Max
      I’m reading ‘Berg’ by Ann Quin now, and I came upon your reviews which I read with great interest. My review will be coming up soon. I also read the Complete Review for ‘Berg’, and I thought he shortchanged it.
      I do believe that ‘Reservoir 13’ does take a naturalism approach to this small village, which I pretty much agree with. From what I’ve experienced I can’t really set the humans above the rest of nature.



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