The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon pulled me into its orbit with a cover blurb reading “part whodunnit, part coming of age,…” and a cute drawing of a goat. I like mysteries. I like coming of age stories. I like cute drawings. The story is about two pre-teen girls who decide to investigate the disappearance of a neighbour. Unfortunately, I did not like the book. It’s faults? Well, too many similes. I think they were on every page. It grates after a while. Ten year old protagonists (Grace and Tilly) who were an odd mixture of deep thought and complete naïveté. Nothing wrong with trying to portray ten year olds that way. I think children of that age are a combination of those things. They are just not the combination of depth and ignorance that Cannon presents. I think even a ten year old can grasp the idea that God is incorporeal but Grace and Tilly doggedly go to people’s homes looking for God. But the thing that really annoyed me (once it was pointed out to me on Goodreads) is that nowhere in the north of England in 1976 would you find two girls named Grace and Tilly. Women named Grace and Tilly in 1976 would have been well on in years.
And yet the book has many fans. I don’t understand their enthusiasm but I was impressed with Cannon’s portrayal of the heat of that summer. There were a few revelations at the end that I admired but I can’t tell you what they are without spoiling the book for you.
Soon, probably too soon, after finishing The Trouble with Goats and Sheep I began to read The Earth Hums in B flat by Mari Strachan. It’s about a pre-teen girl who decides to investigate the disappearance of a neighbour. Oh dear, here we go again. But this is a different book, and to my mind, a much better one. Gwenni is precocious and inexperienced but in her the combination is a much more believable one. In this book, religion also plays a role with strict Welsh Chapel practices playing a key role in the text. Interesting novel with rich characters and a central mystery. Who can ask for more?
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon. Published by Borough Press in 2016.
The Earth Hums in B flat by Mari Strachan. Published by Canongate books in 2009.
I finished, over the weekend, the five-volume Cazalet Chronicle by Elizabeth Jane Howard.
I am sorry that it had to end. I’ve been gripped for two months, maybe more, by the loves, losses, infidelities, and conversations of the Cazalets. The first book begins just before the Second World War and the last one ends at the end of 1958.
You can read about Elizabeth Jane Howard here. Better yet, you can read her memoir, Slipstream.
What is it about multi-generational family sagas that is so engrossing? The best that I can say about the Cazelet Chronicle is that it provided “companionable monotony”. Throughout the five novels, people have the same conversations, repress the same issues, obsess about dinner party menus and seating arrangements. Endless hot-water bottles are filled for sleeping in cold, damp houses; thousands of cups of tea prepared.
Some of the characters who were funny, engaged, interesting children retain those characteristics as they become adults. Others grow into adulthood having shed themselves of anything interesting. Some characters disappear and we never do get a satisfactory resolution of their lives. Other lives get tied up a little too neatly. But people pretty much are who they are throughout all the books. No great transformations; no moments of life-changing insight.
I’m not really selling it here. I loved these books. I cared about the people and I will reread some day.
The Chronicle is an illustration, in novel form, of a statement made by a Zen master (can’t find a reference–I will continue to look) to his students suffering in zazen:
“The problems that are with you now will be with you for the rest of your life.”
Goodness, this was a difficult challenge. But hey, bring on the next one!
Things I’ve learned:
- I am very good at coming up with excuses for not writing.
- The first half of the month was much easier than the second.
- I never had any idea what I was going to write until I sat down and started. In other words, don’t not write ’cause you have nothing to stay–start writing and the words will come!
- Wish I had thought about structure a bit more. Happy to have now seen this blog post.
- I’ve got a lot of work to do. I don’t know if I’ve been working on a crime story, a ghost story, or what but I think I have to keep writing about these people and that place until I find out.
- People are very kind with their interest and comments. I was totally shocked to actually have people reading this! Thank you!
See you all next year?!
The police have come and gone. They’ve taken photos and notes. They have nodded gravely. They’ve listened kindly. Yet why do I feel like I’ve not been heard?
They wanted to know if I knew of anyone who had something against me. I said I did not. “Are you sure?” said Officer Whitmore and I swear he looked at me like I was lying. “No,” I repeated, “I do not.” I am not lying.
Urbino stayed by my side the whole time pressing himself against my leg and growling occasionally. The officer looked amused. “Nice pup”, he said “Too bad he couldn’t wake you up last night. Do you always sleep so soundly?”
I looked at him. He seemed to be suggesting something. “Did you take any pills?”
“No,” I said pulling my cardigan around me tightly “I do not drink and I did not take any pills”.
He shrugged. “Weird that you didn’t hear anything. Looks like there were a few people here. Can’t believe they didn’t make any noise.”
So, the police are gone now and I’ve locked up the house. I need to get away from people for a while. Urbino and I are walking through the hills and in the valleys. “I belong here” I yell into the vale. “This land is mine too.”
I hear a rumble back. Thunder? Distorted echo?
I don’t know what’s going on and I’m going to have to spend a lot of time working this out but they cannot stop me. I have work to do.
I woke up this morning after an unusually heavy sleep. I had not had anything to drink last night nor had I taken any medication. But I was very tired and went to bed at 9PM. Urbino was at my side.
I woke up this morning at 9AM and Urbino was licking my face. Don’t know how long I would have slept if he hadn’t woken me. I let him outside and took him outside to the gated area of the yard. When I returned to the house I found a large red X spray-painted on my front door. Red paint which had dried but left drips like blood. My car too–vandalized with the same mark.
And the trees, not all of them. But those I had planted –not the ones that had been here for years but mine. X’d…all of them.
I’ve called the police…I’m waiting now…with Urbino by my side.
A Wassail is a ceremony, a festival, a pagan ritual designed to promote the fertility of orchards and to protect the trees from evil spirits.
I’m all for that.
I’ve been to Wassails. They take place in January at the time of the full moon. You have a bonfire, you have cider, you sing, you dance, you chant. You have a great time.
You sprinkle cider on toast and hang it on branches. This encourages birds to visit which is apparently a good thing.
Apparently there is a local Wiccan community who might be willing to help me out with this. I’ll need someone to write and perform the chant. Or lead the chant since all of us (who can I get to attend?) will be performing the chant.
Do I sound like a fool? Don’t answer that! I’m trying to do so many things at once. Learn about trees, learn DIY skills, learn about dogsl–Urbino has my heart, but dog-ownership has a lot more to it than I thought it would.
I want community. I want friends! There, I’ve said it. Will a Wassail bring me friends? Or just a massive headache?
Donna here. She bought a dog. Pretty much because I said to. She got it from Carly, who, like everyone I know, I went to high school with. Carly’s poodle, ‘Gaga’ had a litter which he was having a hard time getting rid of because people can be so damn snooty about a dog’s pedigree.
Fortunately, the Queen Bee isn’t. She just wants something to love who will love her back.
She kept talking about this storm the other night and how violent it was and how scared whe was.
There was no storm.
Either she’s crazy or things are getting weird up at the Vedder place again. Who can I talk to about this? It’s like we’ve all agreed to pretend it never happened. Could the victims be coming back for revenge? Most of them who disappeared were people you really wouldn’t want to meet anyway. Could they be back? Is she in danger?