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The Trouble With Goats And Sheep: Who Started The Fire?

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This is a question I had right up until the end of the book, in fact in a way I was still asking it after the closing pages. Cannon is both cunningly opaque – if you’ll forgive my 7am workday phrasing – and obvious, a not unclever mix that manages to be both literarily inspiring and literally frustrating.

Firstly, it’s best to put the fire in context: why was it started? The inevitable answer is that it was to cause damage to Walter. How much damage can’t be guessed, exactly, but we can assume that whilst some people wanted harm to befall him, whether it be verbal harm enough to cause him to leave of some sort of physical injury, the person who actually caused the fire was wanting devastation.

Why Walter? Because he was different. The residents didn’t understand him – nowadays we might say he is a bit odd, and the description ‘autistic’ would probably get throw around somewhere. Due to their lack of understanding, the neighbours thought he was nefarious and a threat to their children.

Who, then started the fire? It isn’t until the very end that Cannon relents and gives you a bit to go on – Mrs Forbes tells Sheila Dakin that she knew someone was in Walter’s house when everyone thought it empty, and then comes the blackmail: the photographs might be gone, but she’ll remember what was there. Mrs Forbes has something on Sheila and if Sheila doesn’t want it widely known she’d better stay mum about Mrs Forbes’ lighting the fire. Page 450 of the paperback version; the first line refers to Mrs Forbes’ cat being scared by Walter’s taxi:

‘Nasty taxi, scaring you off like that.’
Mrs Forbes kneaded Whiskey back again.
Sheila Dakin was frowning at her. ‘What taxi was that, Dot?’
‘The one that brought Walter and his mother home.’ Mrs Forbes carried on kneading, and gave more kisses to the top of Whiskey’s head. ‘I said to Margaret, it’s no wonder he ran off. Big, scary car like that, pulling up in the avenue in the middle of the night.’
‘You knew she was in the house?’ said Mrs Dakin.
Mrs Forbes smiled, ‘I thought they both were,’ she said.

…And then Mrs Forbes talks about photographs being gone but memories staying.

We know it was Mrs Forbes, beyond the above, because of the way Walter’s tea towels are found folded up on the range – Cannon talks about tea towels a couple of times in the book, providing a hint, but at those points it’s difficult to see any relevance, particularly as everyone in the book is… particular. Walter tells Grace and Tilly about the way he keeps his tea towels, and that doesn’t involve folding them. Later on we see Mrs Forbes’ tea towels in her home, folded neatly.

Mrs Forbes knew both Walter and his mother – not all that much older, it seems, than Mrs Forbes herself, and most certainly innocent – were in the house, and was angry enough about the situation the residents had constructed to kill.

The one saving grace is that it turns out the other residents weren’t thinking that far – well, if it can be called a saving grace.

 
 

Tracy Terry

October 16, 2017, 5:12 pm

Well, if ever there was a title that captured the imagination. It’s just a shame that having read your post I no longer feel it is a book for me.

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