There are few things better than a really good book. Which is why we’re launching a new series, #W&Wreads. We’ll be posting reviews both here and on Instagram (because we love how enthusiastic and engaged the Insta community is) and we’d love you to get involved. Send us your recommendations. Read alongside us and send us your reviews. We’d love that.
We get off to a flying start thanks to my friend and book guru, Helen (Entertainment Editor at Glamour magazine, overseer of their culture coverage, fellow book fiend, mother of one son who – her words – looks like a big-eyed emoji (he is madly cute), all round cool chick. You can follow her on Twitter @helbobwhitaker). Helen sent me this and told me I would love it – and she was right. (She is also right about La La Land. Including the ending, about which I have certain reservations.)
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
From this moment, I shall automatically add any novel set during the drought of 1976 to my reading list. The last two I’ve read (Instructions for a Heatwave by the literary god that is Maggie O’Farrell) and this debut novel from Joanna Cannon, are both compellingly, normal-service-is-suspended brilliant.
The mystery which opens Goats and Sheep is this: Mrs Creasy from number eight The Avenue has vanished. Her husband walks the streets, distraught, but convinced she will return in time for their wedding anniversary. 10 year-old Grace and her best friend Tilly are convinced she’s been murdered. And they determine to investigate. Starting, naturally, at the local church. There’s a minor confusion (thanks, vicar) and they determine that if they can find God, then Mrs Creasy will be return and everything will go back to normal.
Grace is a wholly beguiling heroine. Funny, bright, warm, unwittingly wise, and with wonderful turn of phrase (“The hall was far more crowded than the church had been… It appeared that Jesus pulled a much bigger crowd if He provided garibaldis.”) You’ll fall in love with both her and Tilly.
It transpires that this is not the only mystery: there’s a case of arson, the thankfully brief kidnapping of a baby; and Something Else. Something a group of Avenue residents did years earlier. It’s often referred to (in hushed tones, often when they’re at the British Legion drinking Babycham).
Nor is Grace the only narrator; perspective slips and shifts between six Avenue residents. Sweet, beleaguered Dorothy with her quietly cruel (and rather sinister) husband; Thin Brian in his double denim and his overbearing Milk-Tray-eating mother; Eric Lamb, still mourning his wife… They’re all beautifully drawn (Cannon has a genius for observation) – and all hugging their secrets close.
Yet this is less whodunnit, more gradual unfurling of the truth, with a dash of coming-of-age. The quiet, everyday dramas and small tragedies that lurk behind closed doors on a quiet, suburban street. It’s gloriously nostalgic – Grace and Tilly read Jackie and circle their favourites in the Kay’s catalogue whilst eating Angel Delight and Club biscuits – and deeply human.
Buy it here.
Image via Pinterest.