Book Report: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The cover of the book describes it as ‘part whodunit, part coming of age (with) secrets behind every door’. The brief summary on the inside cover sets the scene as the summer of 1976, a neighbour is missing and two kids, Grace and Tilly, decide to figure out what happened, and in doing so reveal all kinds of secrets no one expects.  Sounds tantalizing, right?  That’s what hooked me in.  Unfortunately, the book, in my opinion, didn’t live up to this even brief plot outline.  I’ll be honest, I pretty much forget that it was a whodunit halfway through the book.

It’s the sizzling, hot summer of 1976 in Great Britain (I know, I’m already having a hard time to suspend my disbelief about that one), and Mrs. Creasy is missing. The rumour mill on the quaint cul-de-sac starts churning concerning her whereabouts.  Grace and Tilly, both ten, decide that if they can find God (as if God is some misplaced shoe), then they will surely find Mrs. Creasy.  The neighbours all suspect the recluse Mr. Bishop, is somehow involved in the disappearance.

The story jumps back and forth both in time and in who is narrating the story. For the most part the story is told from the perspective of Grace, the ten year old, but other parts are told in standard third-person, leaving the reader somewhat disconnected.  Something happened on the street ten years prior that all the neighbours are whispering about, and are suggesting it’s connected to the current disappearance, but the author is so vague about the details, it doesn’t generate the momentum it is clearly intended to create.

The neighbours on the street are indistinguishable and not memorable. Grace herself, despite being only ten, seems unrealistically wise beyond her years at some moments, then like a kid at others.  The book is filled with religious overtones, the title being the main one, but I had a hard time understanding why, as most didn’t really seem to add significantly to the storyline.

Finally, since I didn’t grow up in 1970’s Britain, I found myself looking up all kinds of unusual British words and food references – sou’wester, Black Jacks, Flying Saucers, Angel Delight among others.  I suspect if the setting was in the US, these 70’s cultural references would be more nostalgic, but for me they fell flat.

As you might expect there was a bit of twist at the end of the book, but I was already so disconnected from the characters and the story, that I barely noticed. And in fact, once I was actually finished the book, I was like, “is that it?”

So if you haven’t guessed by now, the book was a bit of a disappointment for me. But if nothing else, it satisfied by goal of reading a book that was published in 2016, so that’s a plus!

Ann

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