Monday, November 26, 2007

"Three Bags Full" by Leonie Swann

Any book that has a blurb on the back saying "Probably the best sheep detective novel you'll read all year!" can't take itself too seriously. I read a review of this one near the start of the summer, maybe on www.salon.com. I think it was part of a "beach reads" article. I requested it through interlibrary loan, and got it 3.5 weeks ago. It was very fun. I wanted to read it because I want to write a "Watership down of (insert name of animal here)" kind of book, and the idea of limited thought processes, skills and abilities in a mystery appealed to me.

The sheep can understand human speech (English but not Gaelic), but we can't understand them. They have lots of sheepy limitations -- they don't like to be alone, they eat all the time, they know they are edible, they generally (except Mopple the Whale) have poor memories. They have many sheepy advantages -- they can tell if a person is lying because they can smell it; no one is very concerned about them listening because they're, well, sheep; they can eat many things.

The book opens with the murder of their shepherd, George. The sheep (well, actually, Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in the flock) decide it's their duty to find out who committed the murder. In their investigations, they uncover details about a previous murder, enter the Smartest Sheep contest at the pub, one sheep goes to confession, they listen to many private conversations and meet some other sheep who seem sort of stupid compared to them. And they solve the murder.

These were special sheep. George used to read to them, and specified in his will that not only were they to be taken on a trip to Europe, but they were to have a shepherd who would read to them, 30 minutes per day. He read them Pamela novels, which seemed like a series of dreadful bodice-rippers, and a book about sheep diseases, and half of a mystery novel (before he threw it away in disgust). Their understanding of human interactions seemed deeply coloured by the Pamela novels, and they at one point used their knowledge of sheep diseases to great effect (they faked what looked to me like mad sheep disease). Their new shepherd read them "Wuthering Heights" which they would have liked more of, and threatened to read them "The Silence of the Lambs" next. They thought that sounded all right.

I quite liked that the resolution of the murder didn't make sense to them, because they are sheep. When I was done with this book, Ed read it too, and he liked it. That surprised me. It was probably because of Othello, the black 4-horned sheep.

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