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20.4.18

À mon chevet: Reservoir 13

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
At the butcher's for May Day weekend there was a queue but nothing like there once would have been. Nothing like the queue Martin and Ruth needed to keep the shop going. Martin had been keeping this to himself, although it was becoming obvious and nobody asked. Irene was at the front of the queue telling everyone what she knew about the situation at the Hunters'. She did the cleaning there, and knew a thing or two. You can imagine what it's like for the girl's parents, she said. Having to watch us all down here just getting on with things. Ruth saying, But surely the village couldn't be expected to put life on hold. Austin Cooper came in with copies of the Valley Echo newsletter and laid them on the counter. Ruth wished him congratulations, and he looked confused for a moment before smiling and backing away towards the door. Irene watched him go, and asked if Su Cooper were expecting. Ruth said, Yes, at last, and from the back of the queue Gordon Jackson asked, Would there be any chance of getting served before the baby was born. A breakdown truck came slowly down the narrow street, with a red LDV Pilot van hoisted on the back and a police car following. The van was wrapped in clear plastic. Martin wiped his hands on his apron and stepped outside to watch it pass. Gordon came out with him and lit a cigarette. Martin nodded. That changes things, he said. Fucking breakthrough is that, Gordon said. The swallows returned in number, and could be seen flying in and out through the open doors of the lambing shed at the Jacksons' and the cowsheds over at the Thompsons', and the outbuildings up on the Hunters' land. The well-dressing committee had a difference of opinion about whether to dress the boards at all this year. Under the circumstances. There'd never been a year without a well-dressing that anyone could remember. But there'd never been a year like this. In the end it was agreed to make the dressing but to keep the event low-key. There were sightings of the girl. She was seen by Irene, first, on the footbridge by the tearooms, walking across to the other side. Quite alone she was, Irene said. Her young face turned half away and she wouldn't look me in the eye. Gone before I got to her and I couldn't see which way she went. I knew it was her. The police were told, and they went searching but they found nothing. There were lots of young families in the area that day, a police spokesperson said. But I know it was her, Irene said again. There was rain and the river was high and the hawthorn by the lower meadows came out foaming white. The cow parsley was thick along the footpaths and the shade deepened under the trees. Stock was moved higher up the hills and the tearooms by the millpond opened for the year. In the shed Thompson's men were working on the baler, making sure they'd be ready when the time came for the cut. The grass was high but the weather had been low for days. The rain on the roof was loud and steady. The reservoirs filled.

-- Jon McGregor, Reservoir 13, Chapter 1
Every year I stock up on books that made the Best of the Year cut for my favorite literary critic, James Wood. He has never given me a bum steer, and this author is a most welcome new find for me. After devouring his latest book, Reservoir 13, I am planning to read everything else he has written. This novel opens like a crime thriller: a young girl has gone missing while on a vacation in a picturesque English village. The narrative style is bracing, a sort of stream of consciousness that reads like one of the nosiest, best-informed villagers recording every detail and turn of life in the place. McGregor's eye is minutely trained, streamlined to a laser focus on the lives of young and old in the village, as well as the spiraling rhythms of natural life. At the end of the book, I was genuinely sad not to keep receiving updates on the movements of the foxes and badgers, which plants were coming up and which were fading, how the gardeners were succeeding or failing in their allotments. The old traditions, like the harvest festival and the well-dressing, linger and are renewed. The latter makes a trip to Derbyshire a must at some point in the future.

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