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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

A Convenient Fictional Landscape

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep - Joanna Cannon

Set in suburban England in the long hot summer of 1976, The Trouble With  Goats And Sheep is a study of a community with something to hide. The story is largely narrated by ten-year-old Grace who, together with her side-kick, Tilly, sets out to uncover the dark secret festering at the heart of her neighbourhood.


Joanna Cannon has a real way with words and she is always crafting neat little vignettes of her characters e.g. "There was always a glaze of anxiety to Dorothy, even when she was younger. She combed the landscape for the next catastrophe, whittling at her thoughts until she'd shaped a problem out of them and then grooming herself with the satisfaction of worrying about it."


There is a lot of really excellent observational writing here. But, actually, that's my issue with this book. The whole focus is on observational writing. It's all little tics of behaviour coupled with period details - pop songs, TV programmes, adverts, hairstyles, popular foods etc.


Despite this attention to detail, characterisation, while amusing, is not entirely credible. There is too much reliance on stock traits. This is one of those convenient fictional landscapes where everyone knows everyone else, where the vicar is at the centre of the community and where the local policeman licks his pencil before he starts writing in his notebook.


Grace, the juvenile detective, is a combination of intuitive wisdom and charming naivety which allows the author plenty of scope for ironic observation of adult behaviour but which also comes over, after a while, as irritatingly twee. After a while I began to feel like I was listening to a stand-up comedian rather than reading a novel. Clever but not very challenging.