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.