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Book Review: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

When it comes to fiction, there are some novels that you read, enjoy and forget. There are others that make their way to your bookshelf after the last page. (I have a few of those). And then there are those rare and special finds which, once you have finished reading (reluctantly), you want to carry around with you like Linus and his blanket.

‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep,’ a debut novel by Joanna Cannon, is one of those books.

A random purchase from a 2nd hand bookshop (the cover delighted me and the blurb intrigued me), it had me captivated and under its spell from the first page.

The characters crept into my psyche and gently wove themselves around my heart.

The story of a suburban street and its inhabitants plays out over the British summer heatwave of 1976 and begins with these words: ‘Mrs Creasy disappeared on a Monday. I know it was a Monday, because it was when the dustbin men came, and the avenue was filled with the smell of scraped plates.’

Those words introduce us to 10-year old Grace, the narrator. A couple of pages later we meet her best friend and shadow, Tilly: ‘Tilly was waiting by the front gate, in a jumper which had been hand-washed and stretched to her knees. She’d taken the bobbles out of her hair, but it stayed in exactly the same position as if they were still there.’

Grace and Tilly, the 2 protagonists, and Mrs Creasy, around whom the story and mystery revolves, will become your heroes. And through Grace and Tilly's innocent interactions and delightful ‘sleuthing’, the reader becomes entwined in the lives, secrets, whispers, prejudices, insecurities, hopes and dreams of their neighbours. So much so that you are not sure where your world ends and theirs begins.

Grace and Tilly embark on a summer quest to uncover the mystery behind Mrs Creasy’s disappearance. The best way two 10-year old girls know how to do this, is to find God, who, according to the local vicar, is everywhere.

The charming and quirky story unfolds as the reader eavesdrops on conversations and is invited into the kitchens, lounges and gardens of each house on the street. A well-hidden secret, belonging to 1967, slowly begins to emerge and seems to be the key to unlocking the mystery.

As each page turns, we are given insights into human nature. A beautifully poignant story of friendship and community evolves, forcing the reader to delve into corners of their own hearts, exposing our innate self-righteous ability to be quick to judge.

Joanna Cannon masterfully and sensitively crafts a story that will keep you intrigued until the last page. Grace and Tilly’s curiosity and childlike observations will move you to laughter and to tears.

‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ is a story you will want to read slowly, savouring each page as the characters’ backstories and idiosyncrasies reflect a world that is not too far removed from your own.


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