Review – The Trouble With Goats And Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep book cover imageTitle: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep
Author: Joanna Cannon
Publisher: Scribner
Our rating: 3 stars

Publication date: October 2015 (July 12, 2016 USA)
Genre: Mystery (?)
Length: 368 pages
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Review Summary: A nostalgic novel of hidden secrets among neighbours in an English street in the 1970s.

Plot Summary/Description

Ten-year-old Grace is determined to solve the mystery of her missing neighbor, Mrs Creasy. Where has Mrs Creasy gone, and why? Is she alive or dead? Does it have to do with the middle-aged man living alone, that Grace and her friend Tilly must never go near? And what happened in the street ten years ago?

The answer will involve sorting the sheep from the goats – so Grace and Tilly go in search of God, who they’re sure will do this for them, if they could only find him. Meanwhile, they are sticking their noses into other people’s business, stirring things up – which could be dangerous.

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep Review

This is billed as “part mystery, part coming of age novel” and anyone expecting a traditional or cozy mystery may be disappointed because it’s told very much from the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand the significance of what she sees and hears. Maybe it’s assumed the reader will, but I found some aspects of the mystery confusing (even at the end) and looking at reviews online, I don’t think I’m the only one. The truth unravels slowly, more like a dissolution than a resolution.

Having said that, there’s a lot here to enjoy, especially in the descriptions of life in a small and frankly uninteresting town in the middle of England in the 1970s. American readers may need some help with some of the cultural references (younger British readers too). Or just ignore them and go with what works. It’s very evocative of a certain place and time, and it’s natural that the childish character who welcomes us in, doesn’t explain everything right away.

Although told from the perspective of a 10-year-old child, it’s not a children’s book. The attraction is in reading between the lines with grownup eyes, looking back on a hot summer of childhood, when things ignored or misunderstood slowly become clear.

The characters are different types, perhaps a little stereotypical, or maybe just typical of their time and place. I didn’t get the whole Jesus image and why people were impressed by that. I didn’t like Grace, who is often cruel – probably realistically so, little girls can be horrible, but this made it a tough read at some points. But I enjoyed reading about the street and the interactions of the neighbours, who had almost all lived in that street for ten years or more.

It reminded me of the street I lived in as a child where most of the families moved in when the houses were first built and many of them are still there, ageing parents alone now, decades later. I even remember a house fire. But I don’t think it held any secrets – or if it did, I didn’t uncover them!

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