Likely Stories: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

Jan 24, 2019

Story of an inquisitive and erudite young girl and her friend who search for meaning.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

The hype surrounding a new novel can be enticing.  An example is Joanna Cannon’s debut novel, The Trouble with Sheep and Goats.  Joanna is a psychiatrist who lives in England.  This is her first novel.

In the beginning, I found the prose a bit slow, but I quickly became interested in the story of two young girls.  After an encounter with a local vicar, who tells them “God is everywhere,” they decide to see if they can find God.  Grace is the precocious narrator, and the slightly younger Tilly follows her closely.  This thread runs all the way to the end of the story, but the main-focus is on the neighbors who live in a development.  These characters share the foibles, secrets, hopes, and desires all humans have.

Cannon writes, “We walked outside into buttery sunshine.  It had spread itself over the graves, bleaching the stones and picking out the names of the dead.  I watched it creep up the walls of the church until it reached the stained-glass windows, where it threw splinters of scarlet and purple into a cloudless sky.  Mrs. Morton had been absorbed by a clutch of efficient women in hats, and so I wandered around the churchyard in careful, horizontal lines, in case anyone were to be accidentally stepped upon. // I liked the feel of the ground beneath my shoes.  It seemed safe and experienced, as though all the bones that were buried there had made wisdom grow in the soil.  I walked past Earnests and Mauds and Mabels, now beloved and remembered only by the dandelions which grew across their names, until a neat, gravel path brought me to the chancel.  The graves were so old, lichen had eaten into who they used to be, and rows of forgotten people stared back at me from headstones that stooped and stumbled like drunks in the earth” (11).  Nearly every turn of the page adds to the beauty of this story.

Grace and Tilly began investigating.  They turn to the local library.  Cannon writes, “Mrs. Morton pushed the library door, and Tilly and I ducked underneath her arms.  After my bedroom, this was my favorite place in the world.  It was carpeted and lined with heavy bookcases and ticking clocks and velvet chairs, just like someone’s living room.  It smelled of unturned pages and unseen adventures, and on every shelf were people I had yet to meet, and places I had yet to visit.  Each time, I lost my myself in the corridors of books and the polished wooden rooms, deciding which way to go was next” (122).  This reminds me of the many times I visited the Kensington Branch of the Free Library in Philadelphia. 

Grace had, “five tickets.  Five adventures to choose. // The first thing I did was visit Aslan, then Mowgli, and Jo and Meg.  I had read them so many times, it felt like we were friends, and I had to run my fingers down the spine of each book to check it was in its proper place and make sure they were all safe, before I could even think about doing something else.  Tilly pointed at books she wanted, and I left her reading Alice in Wonderland on a very small chair in front of a very small table” (122). 

Joanna Cannon’s novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, took me back to my earliest days as a reader.  This novel is one I won’t easily forget.  5 Stars.

Likely Stories is a production of KWBU.  I’m Jim McKeown.  Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and happy reading!