Tag Archives: Joanna Cannon

My top 5 reads of 2017

10 Jan

It feels like 2017 was a strange year of reading for me. Having set out at the start with the intention of reading more I ended up reading fewer books than I did in 2016. I gave up on more books this year too and I wonder whether this was as a result of an awareness of reading time being more precious. That said, there were still books aplenty to enjoy, and a clutch I got really excited about. There were a couple of real standout titles in 2017 that I knew would be in my top five the moment I’d read them but, as ever, whittling the favourites down to five is not easy. Ned Beauman’s Madness Is Better Than Defeat almost made it (I still can’t see an octopus without remembering…), and Jess Richards’ wonderfully lyrical City of Circles whose opening chapter is like a breath you can’t release. Sarah Day’s Mussolini’s Island was a pleasure, sensitive and melancholy, and opening up a chapter of history that is little known. And then there was The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon, which Mrs Van loved as much as I did. I defy anyone not to fall for Tilly!

 

But down to business: March, the promise of spring and the first of my top five, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows. One of Mrs Van’s favourites too, you really can’t beat a book that can make you laugh out loud, and Erotic Stories For Punjabi Widows will do it over and over. Add to that excellent characters and a storyline that will make you look, and then look again at life and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

 

The next of my top five came to me in June. A book that had been on my radar for a while, though I knew little about it beyond the title and the lovely cover, Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun was an unexpected pleasure. Unexpected because I didn’t know before reading that it was a memoir, and also that it was so uplifting, its lyrical beauty a welcome counterpoint to that febrile sense that necessitated the writing of the book in the first place. Little wonder it won the Wainwright Prize in 2016.

 

From the Orkney Islands in June to South Africa in July and Kopano Matlwa’s Evening Primrose blew me away. It’s not a big book – just 150 pages – but its punch is mighty! It’s interesting for me to realise that I read this the month following The Outrun too as these books feel similar in some ways, visceral and honest, spare and lyrical. There has to be a sense of truth in any book for it to really work but some books bear more truth than others. The truth in Evening Primrose is almost too much to bear. A stunning piece of work.

 

The international flavour continues in September, and it’s Japan this time for Alison Jean Lester’s Yuki Means Happiness. I can’t help but smile, remembering this book and the extraordinarily vivid rendering of little Yuki. It’s like going back to the adorable photos of the little ones in your own life. It’s that characterisation that really makes this book, connecting like a mainline straight to the heart so you feel everything that happens. This was another one that Mrs Van loved too, our favourites coinciding a lot more than in previous years.

 

Finally, November brought Laura Carlin’s The Wicked Cometh. I think I would’ve known this would be in my top five even if I’d read it back in January. A lush and pretty proof with its purple velvet and gold lettering, it’s a treat and no mistake. Hands down, this is up there as Mrs Van’s favourite of the year – I started reading this one to Mrs Van and didn’t get a chance to finish it first. We raced through it in a single weekend. It’s absolutely gripping, an assault on the senses that I’d urge you to get your hands on, and you’ve not got long to wait now!

 

As for 2018, well things are looking pretty good already. After all, you’ve got the absolute delight that is The Wicked Cometh on its way, and there are second books from Fran Cooper (a review of which will follow shortly) and Anthony Trevelyan, both of whom produced stunning debuts (Fran’s excellent These Dividing Walls and Anthony’s sublime The Weightless World, both of which deserve to be very widely read). So here’s wishing you all health and happiness in 2018, and as much joy, heartbreak, adventure, fantasy and truth as you can find between the covers of the books you read.

 

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Van has finished reading… The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon

4 May

The summer of 1976 has thrown a long shadow over a generation. To look back at the figures now might be enough to make those who weren’t there wonder what all the fuss was about. We’ve had hotter days since and we’ve had a drier summer too. But numbers don’t really tell the whole story. It’s the things that live in the memory. Fruit squash ice cubes and calamine lotion, sun burn and the exquisite joy of a really big bit of skin coming off when you’re peeling. The way the heat seemed to swell in your ears. River beds cracked and gaping, once-green parks turned to stubbly brown fields of dust. My father embarrassing us all by walking down to the standpipe in his brogues and his underpants… It’s no wonder so many stories have borrowed this scenery. When it is evoked well it lives in the body’s memory as much as the mind’s eye.

And of course it always ends with rain.

 

In Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats And Sheep we see that long hot summer largely through the eyes of ten-year-old Grace and her slightly younger friend, Tilly. The school holidays have just begun and what else is there to do but unravel the great mystery of the Avenue where she lives: Where has Margaret Creasy gone?

Grace and Tilly’s voices are spot on, and seeing the world through Grace’s eyes affords us the full benefit of all the laughs Tilly can provide. As characters they’re perfect, though don’t imagine that means they are bland. Grace wears her faults on her sleeve and I could feel myself nodding in recognition at my younger self on more than one occasion. She is very funny too, and in a very childlike way. It’s Grace’s charm that carries you into the story proper where the adult world proves to be a good deal less embracing. A number of the adult characters share the narrative duties and it’s in these chapters that we learn about the small secrets the Avenue harbours, and of the big secret that appears to bind them all together.

Above everything else it feels to me to be a book about redemption, how we hanker for it and how stifling it can be when we feel it is out of reach. So much of what happens turns on the smallest of moments, of choices made or avoided, and there’s barely a single character in the book who could be said to be wholly good, or wholly bad.

But isn’t that exactly the trouble with goats and sheep?

 

The writing reminds me of Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry. There’s that same, seemingly very English sense of wry humour, and in the expertly rendered voice of Grace I’m reminded of Claire King’s The Night Rainbow. Like both of these books I can also say that my heart was just a little bit broken along the way. For all the laughs there will be moments when you hang your head and look inside yourself and think about a choice you once made.

I know I’m a little late to the party on this one but I’d urge you to join the flock and pick up a copy of Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats And Sheep. It’s a very enjoyable and fulfilling read.

 

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep was published by Borough Press on 22nd October 2015 ISBN: 9780008132163

You can find Joanna Cannon on Twitter @JoannaCannon or at her website joannacannon.com