After Look At Me by Sarah Duguid and The Widow by Fiona Barton (review to follow), The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon is the third 2016 debut I've already read and if these novels are anything to go by it's going to be an absolutely stellar year for new book discoveries, as each one was excellent in its own right.
It is 1976 and Mrs Creasy has gone missing. The Avenue is turned upside down by residents and the police alike, and the reader becomes a part of the mystery through the eyes of ten-year old best friends Grace and Tilly. As the whispers on the Avenue become more heated, so does Grace and Tilly's investigation, which leads them in and out of their neighbours' houses and eventually in the direction of number 11 – forbidden territory.
Secrets are exposed on the Avenue during the investigation and flashbacks to 1967 pierce through the ominous cloud of mystery surrounding number 11, confirming whether what happened back then is related to the disappearance of Mrs Creasy nearly ten years later. And when Tilly and Grace do a unexpected discovery during that heated summer, it simultaneously brings the peculiar characters from the Avenue closer together and pulls them further apart.
While a mystery novel on the surface, the real strength in The Trouble With Goats and Sheep lies in the carefully crafted dissection of the cast of characters central to the story. There is an incredible sense of meaning behind each closed door and sneak glance from behind the curtains and this is portrayed exceptionally well by the choice of words of Cannon, creating beautiful and thoughtful prose that cuts through the mundane lives of the people on the Avenue.
And following the investigation of the disappearance of Mrs Creasy through the eyes of two naive yet inquisitive ten-year olds added to this feeling of wonder of something that could have so easily become droll. "Sometimes, with grown-ups, the gap between your questions and their answers is too big, and it always seems like the best place to put all your worrying into," Cannon writes within her novel, which perfectly highlights how situations and people that could so easily be uninteresting are turned into something exceptional.
To add to that, there is the intriguing questioning of religion and the brutal honesty in righteousness and even friendships from the two ten-year old protagonists that make this such a unique and enthralling read. Grace and Tilly are not only investigating the disappearance of a neighbour, or why number 11 is forbidden, but after hearing how God loves sheep and not the confused goats, they also try to categorise the people on the Avenue which makes for a fascinating insight into the human psyche and one I thoroughly enjoyed exploring.
"You can't ever forget what you have seen, can you? You don't even need photographs. You can just pull it out of your mind whenever it might be useful to you."
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep isn't a fast-paced page-turner. Instead, it's a quiet read that packs a powerful punch behind each thoughtful sentence, creating an eloquent and thought-provoking novel, which will undoubtedly stir up many conversations in 2016.
Many thanks Lovereading for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
The Trouble With Goats and Sheep will be published on 28 January 2016 by HarperCollins and you can pre-order the novel from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.
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