Tag Archives: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep

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

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