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Human Croquet: A Novel [Paperback]

Kate Atkinson
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 25 1999

A New York TimesBook ReviewNotable Book of the Year

Part fairy tale, part mystery, part coming-of-age novel, this novel 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 neighbors, 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 classmates. A stunning feat of imagination and storytelling, Human Croquet is rich with the disappointments and possibilities every family shares.


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Product Description

From Amazon

Human Croquet is a game in which some people act as hoops while others propel a blindfolded "ball" around the course. Though the game is never actually played in Kate Atkinson's remarkable novel, Human Croquet, the parallels between plot and pastime are undeniable. Atkinson, winner of the 1995 Whitbread Award in Britain, tells the story of Isobel Fairfax and her older brother, Charles. The children's parents vanished when they were young, leaving them to the care of their grandmother, now dead, and their Aunt Vinny. Recently their father has returned with "the Debbie-wife" in tow, and they all live in Arden, the family's ancestral home built on the foundations of the original manor house that burned to the ground in 1605. According to family legend, the first Fairfax took a wife who mysteriously disappeared one day, leaving in her wake a curse on the Fairfax name. More than 300 years later, Fairfax descendants are still struggling with this painful legacy.

Atkinson's novel is obviously not rooted in dull reality. Narrator Isobel has an uncanny knowledge of past and future events; Charles is obsessed with the concept of parallel universes and time travel; and a faery curse hangs over everybody. Fortunately, Kate Atkinson is a masterful writer who manages to keep her world of wonders in check. Human Croquet is no ordinary novel, and readers who venture into the Fairfax universe are in for a magical ride. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This ambitious and unusual novel concerns the nature of time, memory, and, most poignantly, identity. Young Isobel and her brother, Charles, are abandoned by their parents to the loveless care of a sour aunt, stern grandmother, and evil schoolmaster. They spend seven years yearning for the truth about their parents' disappearance and for their mother's return. It is their father, however, who returns?with a new young wife. The home of the protagonists is built on a site where, in the late 16th century, parallel events took place, and the novel warps and wends from past to present to future. British author Atkinson (Behind the Scenes at the Museum, St. Martin's, 1995) here focuses on Isobel's 16th year in 1960. Dopplegangers abound; people long-dead manifest themselves to the living. As the fantastic and the mundane combine almost seamlessly, incest, puppy love, and dysfunctional families mix to darkly comic effect. For most fiction collections; get Atkinson's first book, too.?Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, N.Y.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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CALL ME ISOBEL. (IT'S MY NAME.) Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An audacious tour de force! Aug. 3 2003
Format:Paperback
Although Shakespeare's play is never referenced, the symbolism of the Forest of Arden in As You Like It (where identity is a game and relationships are as mutable as time) is clear in this witty, wise, confusing, magically realistic novel that reminds one of Mervin Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and of Jane Eyre simultaneously. This is without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year, for the story, the characters, and Atkinson's marvelously fluid writing style. If I sound like I'm trying to write a literary assessment of the book, it's because it extends into so many areas and dimensions, successfully and in an entertaining way.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My kind of book Aug. 21 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This was my first Atkinson non Brodie book... And I loved it. The exploration of reality and parallel universe is cleverly done... Which story is true???? Which is not??? A very well written book, as can be expected from this author.... A definite must!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A terrific writer with a tragic flaw June 3 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
As in Behind the Scenes at the Museum, Kate Atkinson offers the reader brilliant and beautiful, wonderful writing with a few characters that are a bit too one-dimensional. I thought as I read this novel that it raised fascinating questions about the nature of time itself; unfortunately, I was wrong. As in Behind the Scenes, in this otherwise excellent book, Kate Atkins goes for a cheap B-movie "surprise" ending, an ending I am amazed any editor wouldn't insist on her rewriting. It's a shame that this gifted writer can't end her novels better. I loved both books until the last few chapters.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a modern Wonderland March 14 2000
Format:Hardcover
Human Croquet is a great summer vacation read. The story is a contemporary Alice in Wonderland, where nonsense reigns and the only rule is that rules don't apply. Highly entertaining.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A book that requires concentration! Oct. 27 2011
Format:Paperback
I had read a couple of Kate Atkinson's novels but this was very different. It leaps from past to present and even to the future. I found that I really needed to concentrate, lest I should forget in between putting down the book and picking it up again where exactly in time I was. The book did remind me in some small way of The Time Traveller's Wife. I think if you enjoyed that book, you will enjoy this. I relaly liked the writing style.

Kate was quite clever in the way she brought all the loose ends together towards the end which gave me some "Ah Ha!" moments.

Though it was a bit strange, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though there were times when I wanted to slap Isobelle for being so vague! It was at times very witty and made me laugh out loud (not something I usually do when reading).

I thoroughly recommend it, but not if you are easily confused. My husband, for instance, would not get past the first couple of chapters...
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4.0 out of 5 stars Odd & Compelling Dec 2 2002
Format:Paperback
This was one of the strangest books I've ever read and believe me,I read alot. 16 year old Isobel of Arden,England expriences a series of strange occurances surrounding herself and her dysfunctional family. The action goes back and forth,hence the title. As you continue reading you see why but I won't give away the ending(of course). Atkinson writes beautifully and really pulls you in with her words. Her characters are fully realized as well,human beings that are both ordinary and unusual at the same time. Not an "easy" read at times but well worth the effort..
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4.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Reading May 25 2002
Format:Paperback
I bought this book after reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum. I really like Kate Atkinsons writing style.
This is a story of much complexity and I couldn't put it down. The story is about a 16 year old girl, Isobel Fairfax and her story is sad, humorous, disturbing and compelling. I was transfixed with genius of the writing. You are taken through the past and present and are never sure what is real and what is not but before the book ends you quickly drawn to the reality of it all.
Finding the truth of what happened to Eliza, Isobels mother, is especially interesting. This book also goes into the world of all the people involved with Isobel. A lot going on here.
It is in much the same style as Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie Macdonald.
Didn't give it 5 stars because I could have probably done without the Shakespeare part, but it was really a gread read!!!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Linguistic & stylistic delights on every page Dec 5 2000
Format:Paperback
Atkinson is an extremely witty and clever author. Every page (often every paragraph or sentence) contains something to wonder at, to laugh at, to be surprised at. I am a sucker for time travel novels and this had every appearance of being one -- but then it wasn't quite that at all. The ending left me a bit less satisfied than the first nine-tenths, but even so, I read it all hungrily and will read more of this literary author's work. I especially liked, as I usually do, that things don't always turn out happy and that people are mixed -- both good and something far different. Even if you ignore the larger themes about time and how our world operates, you can enjoy the story every page of the way.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A very pleasing confusion
The bits of this book narrated by 16 year old Isobel are terrific, I recommended it to all my friends who read "The Tooth Fairy" (I still haven't gotten my copy of that... Read more
Published on Dec 4 2000 by K. Percy
5.0 out of 5 stars Creative, unusual, challenging -- WOW!
Kate Atkinson has a quite unusual and creative style of writing. If you like very linear,unambiguous fiction, she is definitely not for you but if you are up for a challenging and... Read more
Published on Oct. 25 2000 by Carol S.
5.0 out of 5 stars better even than "behind the scenes"
This book was lovely -- beautiful descriptions, fascinating characters and plot, and an intriguing first chapter that hooked me instantly. Read more
Published on June 26 2000 by "jillheather"
4.0 out of 5 stars the magical world's open
I just can't stop read it! Isobel's live is so piercing and unbelievable that it's still a pleasure to leap from one page to another even if it's not the first time...
Published on April 21 2000 by Ravache Alice
4.0 out of 5 stars could not put it down
I really enjoyed reading this book. I enjoyed the journey that the story took me on. I never saw some the twists in the plot coming. Read more
Published on April 3 2000
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as "Behind the Scenes..."
I came upon "Human Croquet" after reading Atkinson's first novel, "Behind the Scenes..." and quite frankly I do have to admit I preferred the first. Read more
Published on March 14 2000 by mark thomas
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