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Human Croquet (1999)

Human Croquet (1999)

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3.69 of 5 Votes: 5
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0312186886 (ISBN13: 9780312186883)

About book Human Croquet (1999)

While this book wasn't quite as good as Behind the Scenes at the Museum A Novel, it had many of its strong points -- excellent writing and characterization, acerbic wit, good pacing, etc. It was also more creative and postmodern, which I found to be both a strength and a weakness. Sixteen-year-old Isobel is a member of the Fairfax family, a long line of cursed individuals. And Isobel's life, like that of her predecessors certainly is miserable. Her mother disappeared permanently when she was young, and she continues to hope for her return as she struggles with becoming a woman and fantasizes about having a mother's guidance. Her father disappeared shortly after her mother, leaving young Isobel and her brother Charles to be raised by a crabby divorced aunt. Her father does return seven years later, but with an unlikeable wife who is becoming increasingly eccentric. In short, none of the adults in Isobel's life seem particularly invested in her, with the exception of her neighbor Mrs. Baxter, who has serious problems of her own. Isobel's older brother Charles leads a dead-end life and frequently retreats into a fantasy world. And then there's Isobel herself, struggling with adolescent unrequited love on top of everything else as she tries to make sense of her life, an effort which is hampered by a disturbing tendency to find herself going back in time unexpectedly and discovering alternate versions of her past, and even her present. I usually hate postmodern stuff, so I was pleasantly surprised when the constant alternate realities didn't bother me. There's still that stick-in-the-mud part of me that would have preferred a more coherent story, but I didn't feel nearly as strongly about that as I usually do. I actually enjoyed reading the book a lot. I did find parts of the story line overly dark, though, which I've come to expect from Atkinson but still found disturbing -- way too much incest, adultery, and Machiavellianism for my tastes. That's why, despite its great qualities, I could only give this four stars. But if you like Atkinson, you'll definitely like this one.

6/2015: Just came across some notes from when I read this.They are the notes of a younger me, and I cannot defend them as I don't really remember the book (other than the cat sleeping thing (q.v. below)). "This is a surreal journey through the life of a suburban English teenager and her family. As eccentric as they appear throughout the book, the ultimate feeling is that they are just as normal as everyone else, or that everyone else is just as eccentric. I was charmed by the voice of this girl. Recurring contemplations on the phrases surrounding the use of time: spending time, taking time, saving time (in banks of wild thyme), And the idea of people disappearing from their lives - for various reasons. Or remaining in their lives when they should disappear. Check out an Ambrose Bierce essay entitled 'The Difficulty of Crossing a Field'. The characterizations are ones to be emulated. There's a one-page introduction to the narrator's friend Eunice that recreates this girl in full color, and then a description of her Aunt Vinny's closet, focusing on shoes, which nails that character. Trees as motif. Human croquet: line up human subjects and let them go, set the stage and start the action, with uncertain but interconnected results."Quote from the book:"Vinny is covered in Cats, like someone in a surreal film - three on her lap, one draped around her shoulders, one at her feet. I half-expect to see one on her head in a minute. ...(Why do cats sleep so much? Perhaps they've been trusted with some major cosmis task, an essential law of physics - such as: if there are less than five million cats sleeping at any one time the world will stop spinning. So that when you look at them and think, 'what a lazy, good-for-nothing animal', they are, in fact, working very, very hard.)"This (I know, like the Red King) has stuck with me, and I frequently note it when regarding my sleeping cats: "they're working so hard".

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I've not read any other of Kate Atkinson's books. She apparently has a large, enthusiastic following; although many of those folks did say that this is not her best work.I enjoyed her writing tone, her sentence structure, the rich vocabulary that she employs to good effect. But I'm apparently too literal in my view of the world around me to appreciate, or certainly to follow, a book that has as many abrupt twists and turns as this one. I did not find it easy or entertaining to try to disern between the present and literal, the present and fantasy, characters in the present employing time travel without the benefit [for me] of flashing signs, or at least, cue cards that clearly state "Attention: Time Travel Sequence!" or something similar. Once I got to the end of the book, I realized I would have to re-read it in its entirety to sort out who it was that really died, by whose hand, and when; and then realized I didn't care enough to put that effort into it.It may be a wonderful book, worthy of much higher than 2 stars, but you couldn't prove it by me.

I am a Kate Atkinson fan, and this is one of her earlier works. She combines motherless children, time travel, a fairy tale quality, and mysterious disappearances and reappearances, all centered around her protagonist and sometime narrator, Isobel Fairfax. The core of the novel begins on Isobel's sixteenth birthday, 1 April 1960. Not until very late in the novel to do find out who the real villain is and why her mother disappeared--though Eliza Fairfax is not the first Fairfax to disappear into a wood. Through all the surreal experiences, Isobel maintains her humor but also her melancholy. It's as if her family is cursed and lost and in a fog. She has to sort through the lies that have been told to her. One lie, about how her father died in London, is dissolved when he arrives home after several years in New Zealand and with a new wife. She relives one climactic day about three times (rather like the movie Groundhog Day), thus proving that she could "step into the same river more than once." By the end, the jigsaw of a dysfunctional family is complete."But there isn't a day goes by when I don't think about her. I carry Eliza around inside me, like a bowl of emptiness. There is nothing to fill it, only unanswered questions. What was her favorite color? Did she have a sweet-tooth? Was she a good dancer? Was she afraid of death? Do I have diseases I will inherit from her? Will I sew a straight seam or play a good hand at bridge because of her?"I have not pattern for womanhood--other than that provided by Vinnie and Debbie , no-one could call them good models. There are things I don't know about--good skin care, how to write a thank-you letter--because she was never there to teach me. More important things--how to be a wife, how to be a mother. Eliza (rook-hair, milk-skin, blood-lips). ..."Perhaps she's coming back in bits--a drift of perfume, a powder compact, a shoe. Perhaps soon there'll be fingernails, and hair, and then whole limbs will start to appear and we can piece our jigsaw-mother together again." [58]

i give it a three even though i enjoyed reading it in a four star kind of way. the three star means there are better books by her out there, but that this one is fun, if imperfect. and its a shame, because she really tells a good story. this one was just a little too ambitious with what it was trying to squeeze in, and there were too many storylines that either didnt connect gracefully, or had to be absorbed by inference. does that make sense?? i am inarticulate. towards the end it gets especially bumpy with several tacked-on epilogue-y things that broke up my reading flow. in conclusion, this is like "behind the scenes", but with a more experimental form that kind of breaks it.

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