Who knew that the long, sticky summer of ’76 or suburbia could hold so much magic. Emerging writer, Joanna Cannon has used this inspiration to spawn a really intriguing story. Never before has prose made me feel like I am sticking to the very pages I am reading (the complete antithesis of the watery immersion Sarah Winman’s delightful ‘A Year of Marvellous Ways’ evoked). Nor melt so much at the wonder of its central protagonists, Tilly and Grace (10 year old wannabe Nancy Drews). In fact, I defy any reader not to melt, too. This book has become a firm favourite, in the esteemed company of Mockingbird itself, Curious Incident of the Dog at Nighttime and the Book Thief in terms of its ability to move and inspire.
So what is the trouble with goats (and sheep) you may ask? I have to admit that it was the quirky title that first caught my eye. I have long held an affinity towards goats, amusing and petulant creatures that they are. My Granddad used to have on brought round to mow his lawn in central Liverpool (quirky is a good, solid family trait) and my Grandmother used to keep them on her land in Wales. Funny how our experiences shape our preferences and book choices in unexpected ways, isn’t it!
I digress… So the title was catchy and segments effortlessly into the central message of the story (which I won’t spoil for you) with much the same skill demonstrated in Mockingbird. Indeed, it shares many features with its forbearer:
Young, innocent, idealistic protagonists: check
Injustice and prejudice: check
Enabling of the reader to explore their own, perhaps, unseen prejudices through the prism of innocent eyes, as reflected in its straightforward prose: check
A book with the power to make an enormous difference, without preaching: check
I’m sure you are getting the message. This is a powerful and important book. Everyone should read it. Once you have read it, tell everyone you know. Spread the word fast and loud!
Yet none of this would work without the mastery and experience that Joanna cannon imparts at every turn. She has cleverly drawn her ideas together into a tightly controlled plot. She has confidence in this plot and in her narrative skill, which she allows to convey her ideas (which shine through)without resorting to overstating them. Instead we can enjoy the nostalgic trip back to 1976 her writing invokes, we can yearn for its apparent simplicity, yet also be comforted by the fact life even then was not as simple as it may have appeared. We have the gift of Tilly and Grace, two curious, but naive 10 year old girls as they try to unravel the disappearance of their neighbour Mrs Creasy. Along the way we get to consider peoples’ differences and how we judge one another, without evidence or consideration of the effect this may cause- all while allowing us to understand we are all flawed. There is no black and white- only grey. It’s that simple. Wow.
So thank you, Joanna Cannon- for tackling such important issues in such an inspired way. May this novel inspire all that read it…