The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon has been on my To Be Read pile since it was picked for the spring 2017 Richard and Judy Book Club at work. Set in a cul-de-sac in the East of England during the sweltering summer of 1976, Joanna Cannon’s debut is a funny and moving portrayal of suburban life with an intriguing mystery at its core.
When Mrs Creasy disappears from The Avenue under mysterious circumstances, ten year olds Grace and Tilly decide to search for God because they believe if they find Him, he’ll keep everyone safe and bring Mrs Creasy back. They spend their summer holidays going from door to door under the guise of Brownies doing deeds for a badge. Through their innocent observations, pointed questions and unwavering honesty, they uncover long-hidden secrets about their neighbourhood. What they don’t realise is that the lies told to conceal what happened one day ten years ago are the same ones Mrs Creasy was beginning to reveal before she disappeared.
The narrative alternates between Grace’s first-person perspective and the point of view of The Avenue’s residents in the third person, whilst the time frame flashes back from the present, summer of 1976 to November 1967. By telling the story through the eyes of a ten year old, Joanna Cannon creates an earnest, perceptive narrator and allows us to fill in the gaps left by Grace’s naivety. Spirited and slightly bossy, Grace’s relationship with quiet, thoughtful Tilly is touching as she discovers what friendship really means.
Each character on The Avenue is very-well developed and recognisable. They are ordinary people with relatable issues and Joanna Cannon provides revealing insights into their minds, which isn’t surprising considering she worked as a Psychiatrist!
The suffocating heat of the infamous summer is vividly described and creates a claustrophobic atmosphere. In a community where everyone knows everything about each other, that feeling only amplifies as gossip spreads amongst the nosy neighbours of The Avenue.
Joanna Cannon brings the 70’s to life and the retro feel is familiar from the way my parents fondly reminisce about being a child during that time. I’m sure it will be a comforting, nostalgic read for anyone who grew up during the 70’s.
The quirky title of the book is based on the Gospel of Matthew which explains how God divided his flock into kind, loyal sheep and goats, who lack compassion. As Grace and Tilly embark on their journey to find God, the actions of The Avenue warn us against herd-mentality and blindly accepting the opinions of others. The prejudice of the residents also serves as a reminder not to be so quick to judge people if they’re not like you.
A captivating mystery with both light-hearted and poignant moments, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a wonderful debut and one that’s received much, well-deserved praise. I’m looking forward to reading more from Joanna Cannon in the future.