Published by Black Swan
Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
Part fairy tale, part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, this book tells the story of Isobel Fairfax, a girl growing up in Lythe, a typical 1960s British suburb. But Lythe was once the heart of an Elizabethan feudal estate and home to a young English tutor named William Shakespeare, and as Isobel investigates the strange history of her family, her neighbours, and her village, she occasionally gets caught in Shakespearean time warps. Meanwhile, she gets closer to the shocking truths about her missing mother, her war-hero father, and the hidden lives of her close friends and neighbours.
Having reviewed another of Kate Atkinson’s books, ‘One Good Turn’ and only given it an average score, I thought I would try her again. ‘Human Croquet’ is a strange story about a young girl, Isobel and her quest to solve the mysteries of her family. It is set in Northern England in the 1960’s but moves in time back and forward from history to myth to reality. This is a very complicated story and the characters are so well drawn that it becomes almost compulsive to get to the ending and find out how it all comes together. Aunt Vinny is a nightmare but strangely compelling and there is an Alice in Wonderland feeling to some of the plot. The Shakespearian time lapses are unexpected and add to the general air of mystery.
I loved the friend and neighbour Audrey, and the cynical and humorous descriptions of her Dad, almost looking sideways at his abusive behaviour. The use of language is original and poetic at times. In describing a sad smell, Isobel thinks, ‘It’s the smell of last years apples and the smell of very old books with a base note of dead, wet rose petals,’ For me this is evocative of loneliness. The ending, like the rest of the book is a bit mysterious but the book as a whole is a minor masterpiece. It is a book which may deserve a second read.