I recently read and fell in love with Outlander but wasn’t ready to make the series commitment back to back. I ended up coming across a list of “If you loved Outlander, you will like these” reading list and Kate Atkinson’s Human Croquet was on it.
I added it to my list and the next time I was at the library I found it and decided it was meant to be.
I know, you’re all But Eva, besides Life After Life, you don’t like Kate Atkinson’s work! And you’re not wrong. After loving Life After Life and discovering that she had a bunch more books out there, I made it my mission to read them. And could not handle them. I did not like them at all and decided that I would stop reading her books. (Except the follow up to Life After Life that’s recently been announced. I will for sure be reading that.)
Her crime fiction I can’t handle. But her books with time travel themes? I was willing to give that another go with Human Croquet.
Isobel Fairfax wakes up in 1960 on her 16th birthday and suddenly begins to slip through pockets of time, finding herself on her street in 1918 before any of the houses on it are even a thought; in the town square when it’s still a market at least 300 years earlier; getting into a Groundhog Day scenario with Christmas Eve months later.
Her weird time travel is something she can’t control, and it only happens for moments at a time.
And it doesn’t seem to go anywhere.
Isobel’s mom disappeared when she was little and they have no idea what happened. Instead of traveling back to see what happened, we travel without her and it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with Isobel’s time travel. I liked finding out what happened, I liked going back to when her grandmother was still alive, to when Isobel and her brother Charles were the apple of their mom’s eye, to when their neighbours, the abusive headmaster Mr. Baxter and his family first moved in. But I found myself frustrated by the lack of any semblance of plot continuity. Jumping back to 1918 for a moment has exactly nothing to do with any of the Fairfax family so why are we doing it?
Atkinson’s mettle as a writer is clear in this book – she is able to do with words what so very few are. In the opening pages of the book, we go from a world with nothing, to watching time wreak changes on the landscape of the town that Isobel will come to know and such is her skill that I could actually see the changes as if I was watching a timelapse from the sky. But her skill as a writer has never been in question for me.
When the ending does come, I will admit, it’s a clever one. But I’m wondering if maybe it was too clever, if by hiding it so well Atkinson didn’t spoil some of the fun of reading a time travel novel; the reader should probably be in on the scheme.
That said, I think that writing Human Croquet meant that years later she was able to perfect Life After Life and if that’s the case, then I’m alright with having read it. Because Life After Life is still one of the best books I’ve read recently.