Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13 stepped out life in a small town, year by year, over the 13 years since a teenage visitor, Becky Shaw, went missing. One of the most powerful aspects of the novel was the lack of sensationalism about the disappearance; it was mentioned in the first year or two, but faded into the backstory. Occasionally a piece of clothing would turn up or a memory would be stirred, but it was merely incidental.
So the Reservoir Tapes is a companion piece. In that first year, we have 15 narratives from 15 different people regarding Becky’s disappearance. Bookended by the two parents, there is puzzlement, sadness and a great deal of indifference demonstrated by the town’s residents.
I believe this was first conceived as a series of short radio broadcasts, so each narrative is roughly the same length and self-contained in terms of telling a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Each narrator has a quite different voice, each has an agenda…
Just like Reservoir 13, the pitch is gentle, subtle and beguiling. There is as much told through reading between the lines, spotting what is not being said, as by the words themselves. This is a perfect companion piece that adds significantly to Reservoir 13 without taking anything away.
review of 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster
Auster's latest novel starts with chapter 1.0 being the one constant in the story of the four Ferguson's that each part of the novel starting with the arrival of Ferguson's grandfather to New York and the boat over. We have the same genetic make up of the one character but in four different scenario for each. So in one, Archie is a star sports athlete, another he had been poorly as a child while a third. Each unique in their own way and each creating a different character though with some similiarities.
In the first Ferguson for each of the chapters, this seems more to try to refresh people on the history of the period chosen. Some characters reoccur in the four novels for example Amy. Some things overlap, it seemed to me that in each the young Ferguson has a penchant for double acts with people whether through the films of Laurel & Hardy or the part he plays at a summer camp where him and a friend pretend to be Steinbeck's Lennie & George.
A bit of this reads like a best of collection of Paul Auster's novels, there is one Ferguson that translates French poetry, another that uses films as a source to help them through a difficult time, . But this isn't a bad thing. I think if you like Auster's other novels, you probably will like this one. While I found the size of it daunting to begin with, I think that these familiar surroundings did help and I did give myself a brief recap prior to starting each chapter of which Ferguson this is.
Overall, it really works and Auster knits and sews a splendid story together on the four Fergusons. I found it to be superb. A very engaging read. I did think early on maybe it would be good if the chapters ran consecutively for each of the ferguson's rather than each of the fergusons' chapter ones following each other.
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So shortlist announced today as follows:
4321 by Paul Auster (Faber & Faber)
Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)
History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Orion Books)
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Canongate)
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor (4th Estate, HarperCollins)
Elmet by Fiona Mozley (JM Originals, John Murray)
The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Bloomsbury)
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
Autumn by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
Swing Time by Zadie Smith (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Random House)
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (Fleet, Little, Brown)
I've read Colson Whitehead, I'm reading 4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster and Exit West by Mohsin Hamid was planned as my read in 2 or 3 books, though maybe I'll move it up now
Unnamed narrator, a brown girl growing up in Brent, gets the dream job working as a general factotum for an international rock star called Aimee who is really Madonna wearing a Kylie mask.
The story dips back and forth in our narrator's life. There was a friendly childhood rivalry with Tracey - who lived fun the flats on the wrong side of the road. There was the job working for a youth TV company. There was the mother's political career as she became MP for Brent West. There were romances. The really constant line, though, is Aimee. This is a good insight into the world of the super-rich; the superstars with retinues, with diaries chock-full of trivia, with a quest for new challenges when everything has already been achieved. So we follow our narrator, following Aimee to The Gambia where the plan is to set up a school for girls. Aimee has the big idea, her retinue have to make it happen. It is a classic case of imposing western values on a developing country; the school is not what the community needs but, by God, it is what they are going to get.
But the Gambian line starts to get bogged down with personal relationships. As the Aimee party all seem to hook up with Gambians, it gets mighty dull. Do I care that A fancies B and B fancies C? I think not.
And the Tracey line is also interesting, although it is not quite clear how friendly rivalry in teenage became hostility in adulthood. Tracey is a dancer and pursues her dream. Our narrator doesn't really have a dream but pursues it anyway. There was supposed to be a significant moment, but when it is revealed it carries too much weight.
There is enough in the book to make the reader smile. There is pop culture, satire, race, class, politics. But there is also this saggy, baggy middle that goes on way too long and allows the interest to wane. I didn't buy the ending at all - which required our narrator to become a disgruntled employee and for her employer to discover that fact. Both these premises were implausible. But at least it brought a long novel to a somewhat belated end.
This sounds negative, but on balance the good did outweigh the bad. But if only there had been a stronger editor...