“That was what he wanted, her discomfort”
I have mixed feelings about Reservoir. The advance information promised a story dealing with the neuroscience of memory, an interest of mine, and this was delivered. What I struggled with was the pace. The first half of the book is given over almost entirely to character introduction and scene setting. The protagonist, Hannah Rossier, despite being a renowned academic, comes across as dithering and unprofessional in this section. Granted, the reader is observing her mostly in private after she has been rocked by the emergence of a face from her traumatic past. I was glad to get beyond this to the second section where tension builds and Hannah is shown capable of pulling herself together, which her job and status requires. .
The tale is set in Geneva during an international academic conference, bringing together neuroscientists and psychologists. Delegates are presenting views and findings that challenge accepted thinking in their field of research. Hannah, a psychotherapist, is to give the keynote speech that will close proceedings. As someone who lives just a few hours away and who rarely chooses to socialise, it is unclear why she is attending the entire four days. Perhaps it is good for her career to be seen. Perhaps she needed to prove something to herself.
The book opens with a glimpse of Hannah’s childhood in England. She was an only child, raised by her single mother in a degree of poverty and struggling to make friends. Only one girl, Joanna, would play with her, and then only sometimes and when nobody else was available. Their chosen playground was scrubland by a local reservoir, the scene of Hannah’s trauma.
Hannah has only just arrived at the conference when she encounters Neville Weir, another delegate, who as a boy was also at the reservoir on that fateful day. Despite her best efforts Hannah is unable to avoid him. Eventually she must ask what it is he wants from her after all these years, and why.
This is a conference attended by researchers with an interest in criminality triggered by childhood experiences and suppressed memory. Much of the exposition is within lectures given. This was my area of interest but seemed a brave choice in progressing a story. I wonder if other readers may find this structuring dry.
It seemed questionable that delegates would be willing to open up about their personal histories amongst a gathering of such colleagues – without the promise of privacy offered by an individual session with a therapist. The hastily arranged forum that proves pivotal seemed unlikely in this context.
“Jeremy Kyle for academics”
We are, however, dealing with a work of fiction. Once the pace picked up it succeeded in retaining engagement. Neville may have been the bad guy but it was made clear how hard it can be to move on from the fallout he suffered through his teenage years. Hannah’s struggle manifested in her marriage which made for an interesting denouement.
A beguiling subject to weave a story around, especially for readers with a personal interest in the subject matter. The lengthy scene setting may have been frustrating to get through, but overall this tale was still worth finishing.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.