This is one of the most unusual and beautiful books I’ve read for a while.
Hard to define. Difficult to keep track of people. But beautiful and lyrical. Radio 4 do a slot of “slow radio” sometimes and this book reminds me of that. And of my childhood. And of a familiarity with the country and countryside which I fear I’ve lost. Or am losing.
Perhaps it is easier to explain what this book is not. Despite beginning with a thirteen year old girl’s disappearance, the book is not a thriller or a police procedural or a detective novel. The girl – Rebecca or Becky or Bex – is recalled and mentioned throughout the thirteen years of the novel’s scope but never drives the novel.
There is no driving narrative or central character. Except perhaps the village itself.
There are no paragraphs. It is sectioned up and I struggle not to refer to those sections as stanzas.
We skim over the lives of the variety of characters at a distance and we may briefly linger here to overhear a conversation or there to watch a badger sett. But we stay nowhere terribly long. The narrative style is often that of a report rather than a story.
And yet McGregor intertwines and weaves and flows these moments together over thirteen years and I became strangely committed to the characters and to the community. Rohan, James, Lynsey and Sophie; Richard and Cathy; the Jackson boys; Cooper, Su and the twins; even Jones and his sister.
The novel, because of its taut focus on the village reveals the musicality and rhythm of the village – each chapter opens with New Year fireworks, the well-dressing, Mischief Night and the pantomime – and of the natural world of the births and deaths of fixed and badgers and the migration of birds. And those rhythms wove together beautifully as characters worked, lived in, ignored and learned about nature.
McGregor echoes and repeats phrases throughout – with and without variation – and has created an absolute gem of a novel. Maybe not a novel. A prose poem, a prose paean to the community he created.