Monday, 9 January 2017

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

Currently riding high on the paperback best-seller list is The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, an amusing and insightful novel that examines the price people pay to fit in. But is it set in Notts? The Avenue on which the action takes place is a fictional one but there’s a kitchen sink realism to the drama and we know that it takes place in the East Midlands.
The book’s author Joanna Cannon was born in a small Derbyshire town, at the very edge of the Peak District National Park (but if TTWGAS was set there surely it’d be referenced). Cannon went on to study medicine at the University of Leicester so why might it be set in Notts?

The dialogue doesn’t offer many clues but there are several mentions of Brain Clough. One young lad, and would-be footballer, is desperate to be spotted by Cloughie. He was probably the most famous football manager in the country at that time (the hot summer of 76) but he was also the Forest boss so it’s doubtful that Derby or Leicester fans would have been wanting to have been noticed by the Nottingham Forest manager.

Anyway, back to the book, a light read with a dark underbelly. One of the themes is prejudice against difference and it brings to mind the real-life murder case that embroiled retired teacher Christopher Jefferies. The innocent Jefferies was virtually tried by media after being arrested for a murder he didn’t commit. The Sun’s headline was ‘The Strange Mr Jeffries’ and his image (wild hair, angry eyes) was everywhere. In TTWGAS Walter Bishop seems to be similarly judged and misunderstood because of his difference. He, it seems, is a goat. He refuses to believe things because everyone else does just to get along. There are many characters (perhaps too many) and they all seem to live in glass houses from which they throw stones. Cannon, however, understands human behaviour and, when told through the eyes of a ten year old girl, the insight is profound.

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