Today’s book review is brought to you by yours truly, Morgen Bailey. If you’d like your book reviewed or to send me a book review of another author’s book, see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog.
Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson
Synopsis: Once it had been the great forest of Lythe – a vast and impenetrable thicket of green. And here, in the beginning, lived the Fairfaxes, grandly, at Fairfax Manor, visited once by the great Gloriana herself. But over the centuries the forest had been destroyed, replaced by Streets of Trees. The Fairfaxes have dwindled too; now they live in ‘Arden’ at the end of Hawthorne Close and are hardly a family at all. But Isobel Fairfax, who drops into pockets of time and out again, knows about the past. She is sixteen and waiting for the return of her mother – the thin, dangerous Eliza with her scent of nicotine, Arpège and sex, whose disappearance is part of the mystery that still remains at the heart of the forest.
This novel is available via http://www.amazon.co.uk/Human-Croquet-Kate-Atkinson/dp/055299619X or http://www.amazon.com/Human-Croquet-Kate-Atkinson/dp/055299619X.
Review (of the audiobook)
The novel starts with Isobel explaining how the world started, The Big Bang, then hones in one of her ancestors, Sir Francis Fairfax, and his wife, Lady Mary, who favours green. They have a boy, William, who ‘hung on to life long enough to father his likeness’, Samuel and his grandson Joseph. We’re then bombarded by names of relatives and details of the time and their houses. While it’s interesting, it felt unnecessary as I wondered when the story would get going. It does at the beginning of track 3 with ‘Present’ – the 1st of April, Isobel’s sixteenth birthday – and Isobel (Fairfax) talking about herself and her surroundings (including her estranged mother, Eliza, and the woman ‘our dad’, Gordon, replaced her with). Again it’s packed with detail which poets and detail fans will love but I’m not a fan. I read it as a paperback back in 2006 and think I enjoyed it (I have a terrible memory so remember nothing of it). Kate’s my favourite living author so I must have done.
I’m still being bombarded by names and being at the park with the dog and making these notes on my phone’s notes section, I lost track of who was who because I didn’t write them down. HC is Kate’s second published novel and the first, ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’, has over a dozen (mostly female) characters which really is too many for a novel (and note to writers, ensure your character’s names are distinctive eg different first letters and different looking on the page) so I’m not surprised this follows the same pattern.
Isobel explains early on that her name means mad therefore she must be. When she’s briefly transported back to 1918 she wonders if she is but thinks it’s a dream when she returns to ‘now’.
The book, like its predecessor, continues switching from present to various pasts and does so with very intricate description. I got a bit lost with who is who but as the narration continued, things slotted (more or less) into place until the quirky poignant wrap-up at the end.
There were some charming phrases like a ‘melon slice of a smile’ and ‘as white as the widow’s suet pudding’. Like many novels, this one is packed with adverbs which a sixteen-year-old would probably use but some of the language feels beyond a teen’s language but it’s impressive nonetheless.
The audiobook is narrated by Patricia Hodge (whose voice could easily be mistaken for Judy Dench) who is a brilliant choice.
Kate’s next book was one of my favourite short story collections, Not the End of the World, and later went on to write the Jackson Brodie crime series, which made her famous.
It’s my least favourite of Kate’s book and, while well-written, for me only gets a…
Rating: 3 out of 5
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local county council. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She is also active on Twitter, Facebook along with many others (listed on her blog’s Contact page). She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog.
Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List ($0.99 / £0.77) and she has six others (mostly crime) in the works. She also has eight collections of short stories available (also $0.99 / £0.77 each) – detailed on https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine/short-stories.
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If you would like to send me a book review of another author’s books or like your book reviewed (short stories, contemporary crime / women’s novels or writing guides), see book-reviews for the guidelines. Other options listed on opportunities-on-this-blog. And I post writing exercises every weekday on four online writing groups.