I’m not sure what to make of Jon McGregor’s book and I am not unduly concerned about this as I feel like this is part of its design – to be thoughtful, intense, a little oblique at times, revealing at others and also to leave you in the mists of conjecture, because sometimes life is a little bit like that; answers are not always given in the way that you want them to be.
The fact that this is a unique book is shown from the outset in the way that McGregor has chosen to format it: it is in some ways rigidly structured as each numbered section of the book, from 1 to 13, represents a year in the life of a village, each year being an examination of a cluster of individual lives in the aftermath of a teenager’s disappearance, Becky Shaw.
Each section begins at the entry of the new year at midnight with fireworks referenced frequently before we are led to examine the events of that year which illustrates structure. However, there are less strict formats taken, within each section, for instance: in the way that McGregor incorporates speech into his narrative – no speech marks or new lines here which jars with this reader a little. Also, in the paragraphing, as McGregor uses it but not necessarily for a change of subject, for example, for a different character being discussed. Due to the fact that each section represents a year, it may be to represent seasons or months and this is something that I did not pick up on overtly; as nature is referred to frequently throughout and is as much a part of this book as the people, this may have been its purpose as each block is streamed from person to natural happening to an event in the village to an event in a person’s life and so, it continues.
There are not enough words here to fully explore this text: it was, simultaneously, an intense and gentle experience. I felt like I was at the outer edge of a spiral at the beginning, where the circles are looser and further apart but as years progress and pieces of the people’s lives are revealed, this caused a tightening in my reading, an expectation, more and more questions about who could be responsible, if anyone, for Rebecca’s vanishing.
A good read, puzzling and well-observed.