The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor: Podcast in print

Cover imageThis collection is an unusual one: it was written for radio rather than print. The BBC commissioned Jon McGregor to write a set of stories that together comprise a prequel to the sublime Reservoir 13 which won the Costa Novel Award earlier this week, much to my delight. Unsurprisingly, given that was my book of last year, I was eager to both hear and read them. For those who haven’t read the novel, it explores the effects of the disappearance of a young girl on a small rural community over thirteen years – one for each of her life – rather like throwing a stone into a pool and following its ripples

The collection opens with a reporter interviewing Becky’s mother. We only have one side of the interview and so must fill in Charlotte’s part for ourselves. What follows are fourteen stories – vignettes from the Shaws’ previous holiday in the village and the days around Becky’s disappearance – each told from the perspective of a different character. They range from a woman who once worked as a prostitute in the area watching the news and recognising a client to a young boy bullied by Becky, from a man who remembers another missing girl found almost by chance to a woman who recognised her own daughter in Becky’s demeanour. As McGregor says in a brief BBC interview, there’s no attempt to solve the mystery of Becky’s disappearance.

McGregor kicks his collection off brilliantly with the reporter’s interview in which we can almost hear the tearful, faltering, sometimes angry responses from Becky’s mother despite their absence from the page. Each piece has a distinctly individual voice: an elderly man, lonelier that he’ll admit, answers the police tersely becoming more garrulous in the hope that they’ll stay; the reporter’s insinuating, subtly judgemental false sincerity when interviewing Charlotte; a woman’s memories of being rescued from alcoholism by kindness. McGregor’s acutely observed characters all have their own stories – often interconnected – offering a nuanced portrait of a small community with its secrets and history, and the writing is all that fans like me would want it to be:

There were bees buzzing fatly in the foxgloves by the wall vividly summons up the summer heat

Sometimes you’d break things just to see what would happen thinks a character trapped in early parenthood

They’d seen her realising what kind of woman she would be, and playing with the part thinks  a mother, remembering her own precocious daughter

For those of us who loved McGregor’s novel this is an additional treat to be enjoyed two ways. If you have access to it, the stories will be available through BBC iPlayer for a further nine months.

23 thoughts on “The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor: Podcast in print”

    1. It’s interesting to compare the two, April. He talks about how different writing for radio is from writing for the page but I’d say he’s nailed it beautifully for both.

  1. I’m so glad you liked this. I take it this book should be read *after* the novel?
    Reservoir 13 is STILL on hold at the library… however, the good news is our library decided to buy its own copy. 🙂

  2. I’ve requested Reservoir 13 at the library – I’m in a queue, this book-buying ban is frustrating! But I’m glad to hear the broadcasts will be available for 9 months, I’ll definitely listen/read after I’ve read the novel.

    1. I hope you got in before Tuesday’s announcement which probably lenghtened the queue. Definitely good that they’re keeping the broadcasts up for a lengthy period. iPlayer can be frustrating about that some times.

  3. Lovely review, it seems like Reservoir 13 is a gift that keeps on giving. I think I’m currently about 21 in the queue for a copy from my library. Have you also listened to the pdcasts and do these extras work better as podcasts or in written form?

    1. Thank you, Belinda. I hope they’re fast readers in your neck of the woods! I’ve listened to some of the stories on the radio but not all – I’d say they work both ways which is quite a feat.

  4. I was hesitant about listening to these in case they wouldn’t work as well as the novel and consequently spoil that experience. I’m reassured now having seen your comments

      1. Will do – I like listening to audio recordings and podcasts when I’m in the gym. Helps get me through 40 minutes walking on the treadmill and blocks out the noise of CNN etc

  5. Oh, thank you so much for mentioning this. As I know I’ve said before – I’m so impressed with his approach to storytelling that I had already resolved to read Reservoir 13 but was just as happy to gather up his backlist (I’ve Even the Dogs in the stack for “next”) and now I’m going to shuffle so that I don’t miss out on these stories (being endlessly behind with audio stuff).

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