Friday, 13 July 2018

Book Review: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep

I was recommended to read this book and in all honesty I wasn’t sure what to feel about it when the book was in my hands, there wasn’t anything that I found particularly appealing, although the title seemed interesting. It’s an unusual interpretation of life, part coming of age and part theology. Set in England, Grace and Tilly are ten years old during the Summer of 1976 which is historically remembered as the longest and hottest Summer seen in the country. The two girls occupy themselves for their Summer holidays by becoming detectives, determinedly questioning each of their neighbours in turns on the premise of being girl guides wanting to gain badges. There are a lot of characters in the book, some of which are odd, some are kind and some are funny; it’s a nice description of life down a typical suburban street but it is a long read; arguably because the heat of the Summer, this book seemed to go on and on forever. Once the characters had been established, the weather was exaggerated as a means of explaining why some characters were most unusually for themselves; the majority of us become unpleasant and irritable when the weather is unbearably hot and Joanna Cannon put that across very well; as well as how the range of characters interacted with each other, too.

The cover art isn't the most interesting, which was a little disappointing for me as I do love a beautiful cover, however the title 'The Trouble With Goats And Sheep' makes up for the plain blue cover with white accents. Having been recommended to me by a relative, I wasn't really sure what to expect; that said, they do usually recommend absolute gems to me. As much as the cover art isn't what I would usually like, there is something about the minimalist vibe that does appeal to me; the contents of the pages are left fairly open to interpretation as the cover gives nothing away and I like that. Surprises are always welcome. The main issue with this book is getting the head around the (what feels like) millions of characters, although as the book develops this becomes easier. Joanna Cannon handles having so many characters well; it never feels like two characters are the same and each narrative voice reads very differently to each of the others, not only due to the differences in age, gender or life experience; they genuinely seem very different in terms of opinion and sentence structure, which is the perfect an example of excellent writing. The writing style of this book is flawless.

In an ordinary street, where people live ordinary lives, is it such a surprise that the neighbours are hiding a collective secret? Likewise, is anyone without a secret? It is clear to reader fairly early on in the novel that there are secrets waiting to be exposed in the novel, secrets that two little girls are determined to get to the bottom of. The wonders of everyday life are spread out across the pages of this book, through each and every one of the characters. My personal favourites were the two ten year olds; Cannon managed to deliver the humour, lack of understanding and innocence that only children can have through their investigations and listening to adults whispering. The multiple characters alongside chapters alternating between 1967 (the past) and 1976 (the present) was a fantastic use of linguistic techniques to feed information through multiple timelines for the benefit of the reader. The multiple points of view was an excellent way of feeding clues through to the reader about the various goings on, but my favourite narrator was definitely Grace and seeing her character develop. She grows from a little girl, determined to boss her friend around, to still a little girl, but one who is learning the value of friendship and the differences between the people of society.

Overall, this book wasn’t a five star read for me. It was a nice read and well written, but it just didn’t have that little extra something to make it have the wow factor. However, it was a solid four star read; there is something beautiful about everyday life, but at the same time there as definitely something missing. I preferred the narrative voices of the children to the adults, not only because they have a beautiful way of seeing and understanding the world, but because of their instinctive thinking. Whereas the adults were all narrow minded and conditioned by each other to keep the secret, the children had a beautiful way of exploring and thinking outside of the box. There are so many reasons why I wish that I had loved this book more than I did; one of them being that I wanted more focus on the children, another being that the adults were all so unlikable. There are elements of this story that completely captured my heart and others that bored me; nothing to do with the writing style, which I really liked, more to do with the plot not having enough oomph to contain interest throughout the moments where events were sparse. This is a good read, one that I would recommend; I'm looking forward to reading more books by Joanna Cannon as she has a lovely way with words. 

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