‘The Reservoir Tapes’ – Stories Relating to the Disappearance of Becky Shaw


‘The Reservoir Tapes’ by Jon McGregor (2018) – 166 pages

‘The Reservoir Tapes’ contains a group of linked stories or vignettes involving the people who live in the small rural northern English village from which thirteen year-old Becky Shaw disappeared in McGregor’s last novel ‘Reservoir 13’. Whereas ‘Reservoir 13’ presents a wide picture of the people of this village over time, ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ presents small snapshots of people who knew Becky or knew about her disappearance. It is like Jon McGregor imagined ‘Reservoir 13’ so vividly that he had some leftover material about these people which he put into ‘The Reservoir Tapes’.

In the first story Charlotte, the mother of Becky, is being interrogated by a police officer soon after Becky disappeared. We only get the one policeman side of the conversation.

Okay. And then did you come downstairs before she finished her breakfast?

And was that when the idea of going for a walk was discussed?

It would be fair to say that Becky’s response wasn’t positive, would it?

Is it OK if I call her Becky?

She wasn’t enthusiastic about the walk. And the weather wasn’t great, at that point.

So you let the matter rest for the time being. To avoid a conflict.

This one-sided conversation is a good way to get us readers back into this rural village after the Becky Shaw disappearance.

There are fifteen of these quick short stories about various people in the village. ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ started out as a radio broadcast of fifteen episodes and is a fast easy read, but it would not work effectively for those who haven’t read ‘Reservoir 13’ which is a much deeper novel. Just as is the case of most villages, many of these people know or have heard about each other. The stories involve a wide sweep of people.

By the end of ‘The Reservoir Tapes’, we are no closer to figuring out what actually happened to Becky Shaw, but many possibilities are suggested. She could have drowned in the quarry pond or in Reservoir 13 where she had swam before. She may have been attacked by someone. She may have gotten lost during her walk on the mountain. All are possibilities.

All of these first-hand personal accounts relate to Becky Shaw’s disappearance in one way or another, but some veer far away from that to more recent occurrences or disagreements. Life moves on for the people of the village, and other things become of more immediate concern. There have been adulteries, divorces, a laborer gets trapped under quarry rock. Some of the accounts make you feel uneasy about the potential for violence in this or that character. By the end, we readers have the same eerie feeling we had at the end ‘Reservoir 13’.


Grade :    A



8 responses to this post.

  1. What an unusual concept. If anyone can pull it off, it’s McGregor…



  2. I still need to read Reservoir 13. Would this be better as an audio book do you think?



    • Hi Max,
      I read ‘Reservoir 13’ as an audiobook, and my review of it wound up what I consider one of my best for this year. I read ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ as a book only because I had something else going on with audio. ‘The Reservoir Tapes’ would work fine as audio.



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