Reservoir 13

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor is set in an unnamed village in Derbyshire’s Peak District. On the surface this is a story about what happens to a village community when tragedy strikes. Buried deep is the question of how a community can sustain a compassionate interest in the aftermath of tragedy.

Reservoir 13 opens with a search for a missing girl, Rebecca Shaw. It happened at least thirteen years ago. It’s a common enough tragedy, as evidenced by Jon McGregor’s careful punctuation of the story with reports of similar events on the television news. There are thirteen chapters – one for each of the years since the girl’s disappearance. Each chapter begins with the same words: “At midnight when the year turned there were fireworks” (including arson) and each chapter follows the same chronological formula. There are no paragraphs, just long lists of observations of events and relationships.

Life does go on. Weather happens, birds carry on nesting, children grow, relationships change, cleaning has to be done, bridges need mending, the reservoirs need maintaining and the cricket team keeps losing. People come and go.

Life goes on. Is that cliche, or is that proverb – wisdom hard won in the teeth of bitter experience? The author is omniscient. He sees it all. There is no moral judgement – except in his poetic retelling of this village life in details which are compellingly compassionate.

This is a book which focuses on what doesn’t happen, rather than what does. A girl goes missing. What are you supposed to do after the search party? This is a story where a girl goes missing twice: when she is on holiday with her parents and when she goes missing from the story.

I remember a similar search where I was living in the Manor estate in Sheffield. A boy had gone missing. Local residents wore themselves out for weeks, joining in search parties, day and night. I can’t remember what happened. I can’t remember whether the boy was found, whether he was dead or alive. I can’t remember his name. Is that to my shame, or is that what happens? Life goes on.

A boy or girl goes missing, but it is only those closest to them who will miss them. We barely remember. That is how we re-cover.

Reservoir13 was winner of the 2017 Costa Novel Award and was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2017. It was published by Fourth Estate in 2018.

Reshaping the church

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What shape is the Diocese of Chester in? Received wisdom casts the Diocese as a tea pot Following the shape of the old Cheshire. I’ve never quite seen it. I assume that the handle is to the east, and the spout is the Wirral peninsula to the west. It’s like those gestalt pictures¬†through which we jump to conclusions about what we see.

What do you see here?

For me it’s got to be a bird. And the shape it’s in is as a dove. The tail feathers are in the west. It would be better if we could tilt the Wirral down a bit, but we don’t have to be precise. The beak district is in the east, the Peak District. The doves markings are the map pins identifying the churches of the Diocese. One episcopal eye winks at Altrincham. The other suffragan episcopal eye is in the tail feathers giving a steer to issues of poverty and life expectancy exposed by the contrasts between Deeside Wirral and Merseyside Wirral. Chester (with Cathedral and Bishop’s House) is the reproductive egg laying organ.

Or it’s a scary monster waving its hands in the air. You see what you want to see don’t you?

Metaphors generate meaning. The metaphor of the teapot may have been a godsend to those whose concern was to create a sense of fellowship. But would you rather have a diocese which is like a teapot, or a diocese which is like a bird? But not just any bird. Would you like a church that is like a dove?

What shape is the church in?

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