This book was so very, very good.
It opens conventionally enough with the disappearance of a teenage girl in a rural village in England's Peak District. But if you think this is going to be a straightforward police procedural, you couldn't be more wrong.
The book spans 13 years, with each chapter starting at midnight on New Year's Day and as the years progress we get brief glimpses into the lives of the villagers. Babies are born, people die, friendships are made then broken. Teenagers grow up and leave for university. Some come back, some move away.There are marriages, divorces, and always at the back of everyone's minds is the unsolved mystery of the missing girl.
We see how some parts of village life change over the years; small businesses struggle to compete against the big box stores, farmers have to diversify, Mischief Night is subsumed by the more commercial Halloween. And how some things never change; like the annual cricket match against the neighboring village, the well-dressing, harvest festival, and the Christmas pantomime.
And we also see the cycles of nature and the changing seasons. The swallows arriving and departing. The fieldfares and goldcrests building their nests. Foxes, badgers and bats emerging from hibernation.
McGregor's writing is sparse, but wonderfully lyrical. Some reviewers complain that it's repetitive, but to me that's the whole point. Each chapter starts with the words, “At midnight when the year turned...” Everything is rhythmical and cyclical and life goes on.
If you like to reach the end of a book and have all the loose ends tied up neatly, all questions answered, and with justice seen to be done, then this isn't the book for you. If you enjoy ambiguity, beautiful writing, and have more questions than answers, I can't recommend it highly enough.
And if you're wondering what well-dressing is...