Human Croquet is like the offspring of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Grimm’s fairy tales, and a dash of Agatha Christie. The origin story is all Terry Pratchett magic with dashes of Jane Eyre and the wife in the attic. The story quickly progresses to that of Isobel Fairfax, a descendant of the illustrious Fairfax’s, and her painful coming of age in small town Lythe, England. Isobel’s story starts on her 16th birthday and continually moves back and forth in time to tell the story of her family as a whole and the decisions they made that shaped their lives and their worlds. The further Isobel goes into her own family’s past the more she learns about the past of the land she inhabits. Full of images of fairy tales like Bluebeard and literary allusions, a la William Shakespeare as a tutor to one of Isobel’s ancestors, Human Croquet tells a complex story of fate and how fate can play out over centuries.
The one thing that struck me the most whilst reading Human Croquet was how flawed human perception is. We really do see what we want to see and make up stories to explain exactly what we saw. Isobel does precisely this throughout the novel. She creates scenes to help explain and block out her own past, especially regarding her mother Eliza.
Eliza is probably the most interesting character in the whole novel. At first she’s not quite real. She doesn’t even have quotations when she speaks. She speaks all in italics like an all knowing seer, or what I imagine the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland. Her history is tragic and colors the entire world around her. Her absence is felt by everyone in the novel and as a consequence you as the reader feel it too. Her absence is where the Agatha Christie dashes come to play. It takes the entire novel to figure out what happened to Eliza and her end is just as dramatic and tragic as her beginning.
I can’t tell you how much fun this novel was to read. Just trying to guess all of the literary illusions was entertaining in itself. Atkinson has a way with words. Her sentences are beautiful and flow effortlessly into one another. I love how each of her novels has a facade storyline and an unseen one that you have to piece together yourself. Her writing is dense and full. but that’s what I love about it. Atkinson novels always make you think and second guess yourself. But isn’t that what literature is all about, digging and discovering what it means to you.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.