Reservoir by Livi Michael @livimichael @saltpublishing @RichardsonHelen

Source: Review copy
Publication: 15 March 2023 from Salt Publishing
PP: 160
ISBN-13: 978-1784632908

My thanks to Salt Publishing and Helen Richardson for an advance copy for review

At the International Conference Centre in Geneva, Hannah Rossier, formerly Annie Price, comes face to face with Neville Weir, someone from her childhood whom she never expected, or wanted, to meet again. As Neville’s reasons for attending the conference become clear, the dark waters of Hannah’s past start to rise. Hannah is a psychotherapist,with a specialist interest in memory and how connections are made between past and present. She has reinvented herself successfully, moving from a small northern town in England to Lucerne, Switzerland, with her husband, Thibaut.

Nobody, not even Hannah, knows the full truth about herself. Her ‘memories’ consist of glimpses of the place where she played in childhood, known simply as ‘The Wild’. Over the three days of the conference, she has to decide whether she can avoid Neville, or whether she should submit to an encounter with him and with her past. And in her keynote lecture about the neuroscience of memory, how much to conceal or reveal. But can her specialism save her from drowning?

I am delighted to be joined today by Livi Michael whose tense psychological thriller Reservoir was published yesterday. I’ve just started it and already I feel drawn in to the characters and subject matter. I started by asking Livi about her inspiration for Reservoir.

What inspired you to write Reservoir?

Reservoir is a psychological thriller which explores the question of what we do about the painful past. In the past few years we’ve heard a lot about historic pain and rage, from the ‘me too’ movement to black lives matter, the debates over statues and monuments etc. And there have been a lot of official apologies that may or may not do anything to ease the original damage. What can we do about the shameful past, about crime and punishment? It’s a question that has never been satisfactorily resolved. And the UK has the lowest Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR) in Europe (also relevant to my novel). In England, it’s possible to be criminally prosecuted and imprisoned from the age of 10, which raises a lot of questions about how we think of childhood and how we treat children. At the same time, while writing Reservoir, I was aware of my own painful memories, which most of us must have. This made me ask, how do we forgive ourselves? How do we make recompense? Can we arrive at a different perspective on such issues as crime and punishment guilt and shame?

Please tell me about 4 key characters in your book and why they are important

4 key characters in your book and why they are important

There are six characters who are important, so I’ll do my best to narrow it down! Hannah is my main protagonist – the story revolves around her. She has reinvented herself, moving from a working class background to a middle class profession via education, but also changing her nationality and her name, because of her marriage to Thibaut in Switzerland. But when she meets someone from her childhood at an academic conference in Geneva, the dark waters of her past start to rise…Hannah is a psychotherapist with a specialist interest in neuroscience. Neuroscientific research is currently making us rethink such problematic questions as nature versus nurture, free will versus determinism, and the role of memory in shaping our perceptions of who we are. But it will take all Hannah’s training and specialist knowledge to save her from Neville, the antagonist in my novel.

Neville knew Hannah in childhood. His motives for turning up at the conference are initially obscure. But it becomes clear that he believes he knows something about Hannah that she would not like to be exposed.

Neville is important because the question of how we deal with people who would like to shame us is one of the key themes of Reservoir. But also, Neville has suffered, and he believes he has a legitimate grievance, which opened up the theme of how men respond to historic injury, and whether that sense of grievance can ever be appeased.

It was important to me to have a positive male character in the novel to counter Neville, and Hannah’s husband, Thibaut, has loved and supported her unreservedly – even though she is not an easy character to love or even like (although I like her!) It’s only when the extent of Hannah’s secrecy becomes apparent that his affection falters, and he begins to question whether she has ever truly trusted him. At the same time, Hannah realises how terrified she is of losing him. Even then, she doesn’t know whether to tell him the whole truth…

Hard to decide between Hannah’s mother, for this one, or her childhood friend Joanna…they both feature in flashbacks to Hannah’s past and they have both shaped her present. Like my mother, Hannah’s mother was a single parent, unmarried at a time when this was still considered shameful, so she called herself Mrs Price. Hannah doesn’t discover the truth until after her death. Mrs Price is a strong, and somewhat eccentric woman, isolated on the street where they live. She works as a cleaner at the local hospital. Although she doesn’t express affection easily, all the actions she takes are to protect Hannah, even if they occasionally seem inappropriate or disturbing. After a certain incident, for instance, she locks Hannah in her room while she works shifts. Unsurprisingly, Hannah doesn’t remember this with affection! Her mother is part of the reason she has left England for Switzerland, to begin a new life.

Offer me 4 pieces of music that suit the mood of this book

Blue in Green Miles Davis. Like the lake, and the reservoir in my novel, and like Hannah herself, this wonderful piece is serene on the surface but there is a sense of loneliness, sadness and turbulence beneath.

Mahalia Jackson, Didn’t it Rain, I have a happy list on Spotify and this is on it! It’s the perfect piece to turn to on those days when the rain is relentless, and I feel particularly ‘blue’ and doubtful about my writing – so I did listen to it several times during the writing of Reservoir, because the bad news is, no matter how much you’ve written, you are never free from self-doubt. I love this song because of Jackson’s great voice, but also because it’s so joyful, almost ecstatic, and it reminds me to be glad to be alive even when it won’t stop raining! It also reminds me of Hannah, because while I wouldn’t describe her as ecstatic and joyful, she is quietly defiant and very resistant to Neville’s attempts to shame her or put her down.

Stay With Me, sung by Lorraine Ellison. This is such a great, great record, and, while Hannah is so cool on the surface, it perfectly expresses the desperation she feels at the prospect of losing her husband, Thibaut, because of all the secrets she’s kept. If she were less reserved I’m sure she’d be howling stay with me baby, along with Lorraine Ellison!

Richard Strauss, – Im Abendrot (at Sunset) from the Four Last Songs. This is such a haunting composition. The version I have is sung by the late Jessye Norman, but Kiri te Kanawa and Renee Fleming sing it beautifully as well. Strauss wrote it towards the end of his life, and it’s imbued with a sense of remembrance, yearning and regret. Memory and regret are two of the key themes of Reservoir, how we cope with the past – with the things we have done and those we haven’t.

Tell me 4 places you associate with your book

Well, firstly a place that doesn’t feature in it at all – my allotment! I wrote Reservoir during lockdown, and in that first lockdown, when everyone was so confined, it was the only place I could go, apart from the shops. I’m not a brilliant gardener – I wish I was better at it, but I do find it therapeutic. I get a lot of my ideas when digging and weeding. Now, what I remember about that first lock-down period, rather than all the anxiety and terrible statistics, is the beautiful weather, the peace, and quiet (no traffic), the birdsong and the stars at night! What does that tell you about the unreliability of memory?

The street where Hannah lives as a child is actually based on the street where my friend lives now, and is not far from where I grew up. The key feature of this street is that it has terraced houses at the bottom end, semis in the middle and detached residences at the top, like a microcosm of the English class system! Hannah and her mother live at the bottom end, in a terraced house, and Hannah’s friend, Joanna, lives in a semi-detached house further up. This small social distinction contributes in its own way to the events of the novel.

The Wild is also an area that actually exists behind these houses – an area of uncultivated woodland and undergrowth. The reservoir is nearby, but for the purposes of the book, I transplanted it so that it too was in this wild area where the children play. It’s not a huge area, but to Hannah, Joanna and Neville, as children it seems vast and of infinite potential – a different, somewhat forbidden world. Although when Hannah was young there were not so many restrictions on ‘playing out’ as there are today, they’re not really supposed to play there, which makes it all the more attractive. I’m always fascinated by the subject of children’s play, and the way they create different worlds. Children and adults view the same geographic spaces quite differently!

The main action of my novel takes place in an imagined conference centre on the shores of Lake Geneva, which is meant to be a contrast to the reservoir of Hannah’s childhood in terms of location and scale. Lake Geneva is so beautiful and pristine, but, like the reservoir, it has hidden depths!

Can you suggest 4 films that convey the atmosphere you are writing about in your book? 

Somewhat to my surprise, the first film that occurred to me when I saw this question was the classic, Don’t Look Now, from 1973. Although when I thought about it I realised that it is a highly atmospheric film, shot in a gorgeous, watery setting (Venice rather than Geneva) and haunted by the presence (or absence) of a child – so although it is sometimes categorised as horror, and Reservoir isn’t a horror story, there are definite similarities! Also there is a common theme of uncertainty, and the unreliability of perception.

Can You Ever Forgive Me, (Marielle Heller, 2018) is one of my favourite films. The title reflects one of the underlying questions of Reservoir, – can we forgive, and if so, how? But also it is a film is about duplicity and truth, which is one of the main themes of Reservoir.

Notes On a Scandal, (2006) is a film about the potentially destructive nature of friendship and emotional blackmail. It’s psychological thriller full of malice and festering secrets, but gripping – which I hope is also true of Reservoir!

I really struggled with a fourth choice, between the theme of the unreliability of memory (Memento) and the theme of fantasy worlds that can be slightly sinister. I’m opting for Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) because while there are several children’s films about fantasy worlds I wanted something older and darker, that is eerie and enchanting at the same time, and Pan’s Labyrinth is exactly that. It also features a ten year old girl, Ofelia, who is changed forever by her contact with this fantasy world…

And finally, please tell us what’s next for you?

I’m currently writing two novels at the same time and have three ideas-in-waiting! One of the novels I’m writing is historical, about the Victorian writer Mrs Gaskell, and the other is contemporary, about aging. I guess I’ll just keep writing them both to see which one I actually finish!

I found that fascinating. What an eclectic mix and one that makes me even more intrigued to get really immersed in Reservoir. My sincere thanks to Livi Michael for joining me today to take the 4×4 challenge.

Reservoir by Livi Michael is published by Salt on 15 March as a paperback original at £10.99. Available from all good bookshops, from Amazon  or direct from Salt

Livi Michael has published seven previous novels for adults:Rebellion; Succession; Accession; Under a Thin Moon which won the Arthur Welton award; Their Angel Reach which won the Faber Prize; All the Dark Air which was shortlisted for the Mind Award; and Inheritance, which won a Society of Authors Award. She has also published several novels for young adults and children and her short stories have been published in several magazines and anthologies. Livi has two sons and lives in Greater Manchester. She teaches creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and has been a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University
Photo c. Paul Andrews

Published by marypicken

Passionate book reader. Love all kind of books from 19th century novels to crime thrillers. My blog is predominantly crime, psychological thrillers and police procedurals with a good helping of literary fiction thrown in.

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