The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

I read many raving reviews of this book, so obviously I decided to give it a go. The book is narrated by ten year old Grace, it’s set in the extremely summer of 1976, the action revolves around The Avenue, where one day Mrs Creasy disappears. Grace and her friend Tilly decide to find her, they embark on a quest to find God, because as the vicar tells them only with a shepherd all sheep can b safe and where they belong.

We travel with Grace and Tilly from house to house, getting to know the neighbours and their secrets, all filtered by the way kids perceive the world. The book is sometimes funny, but also creates a build up to the discovery of the big secret that bounds the community together. Grace and Tilly of course grow up in the process, they learn about lies, intolerance, loyalty and betrayal. It is a coming of age story in every aspect of it.

Cannon creates the atmosphere of suffocating small community, friendly on the surface only, where every stranger is suspicious, where people like the things the way they are, where we can observe small alliances and pet hates, grudges and growing sense of paranoia, but again all of this is filtered through children’s eyes. Things that are evil or absurd get a bit more blurred, because children take some of them for granted, on the other hand they do question why things happen the way they are. On the surface it is a light, sunny and funny story, but there is a lot of darker things lurking under this top layer. The inhabitants of The Avenue are deeply unhappy, each of them for their own reasons. Cannon has a good grasp on the story and builds her characters in an interesting way, her prose flows without any effort.

With all that said I have to admit that I didn’t really like this book. It is readable, but it didn’t move me, somehow the voice of the children sometimes sounded fake, too childish, too naive in some places and too clever in others. The book also has a very clear moral message, which at times is just too obvious and too directly delivered. I think it is an impressive book for a debut, bu I do expect more from Cannon’s next books.

At the end one small quote, that I really liked, small community desperation in a nutshell:

When she looks back, the journeys she takes do not seem like journeys at all. They seem like a series of small decisions, one placed thoughtlessly upon the next. It’s only when she stops and turns, and realizes she has reached a destination, that the importance of the decisions become clear. They stack behind her, the perhapses and the another-times, and the one-day-soons, and they hold her in a place she never meant to be held. The choices she has made are now a part of her. They have stitched themselves into the person she has become, and when she stops to see who that is, she finds that the cloth from which she is cut has begun to suffocate her.

Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska @ vkphotospace

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