Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

Thanks to friend T, I’ve read another Kate Atkinson book recently, and enjoyed it every bit as much as Behind the Scenes at the Museum; Human Croquet may even be better. Like Behind the Scenes at the Museum it’s a well-crafted story of Northern dysfunctional families, with a mystery at its heart and suffused with dark humour, but it has a fairytale feel to it (and in a sense, it is – you’re left at the end with a version of events but no telling whether it’s ‘true’ or not).

The novel is narrated by 16 year old Isobel Fairfax.  The Fairfaxes had money, once, just as Isobel and her older brother Charles had a mother. Legends have grown up around the loss of both. As with Behind the Scenes…, there are historical chapters filling in backstory and giving clues to later situations and behaviour, emphasising the patterns and repetitions in families and communities.

At the same time, it’s a story about a teenage girl in 1960 – concerned about boys, parties, and Biology O-level, while her friend Carmen is the same age but already engaged and working at a cheese counter in a department store. Wryly observed domestic disharmony and eternal hormonal truths blend well.

There is a revelation towards the end that might leave some readers feeling cheated or misled. However, if you’re prepared to shelve your desire for solid facts and stability in a story, Human Croquet is well worth a read.

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