TITLE: Human Croquet
AUTHOR: Kate Atkinson
Kate Atkinson has been one of my favorite authors for a while now, and since I started reading her books after she'd published a few, I went back and read this earlier tale, which reminded me of her more recent work Life After Life in its time bending structure. It's almost as if this book was a test run for that, yet this stands on its own with its own special take on the flexibility of time.
Isobel Fairfax is an ordinary 16-year-old girl living an ordinary life in 1960, yet somehow, she can slip into the past for brief glimpses of her hometown as it was. Isobel and her older brother have been haunted for most of their lives by the disappearance of their mother when they were young, and Isobel's brother in particular, has been obsessed in recreating her, grasping at any artifact or clue as to who she was or where she is, while Isobel would prefer to regain their mother as a whole entity. Instead, they must contend with their father, Gordon, who returned to them after an absence of seven years; a cranky aunt; and a stepmother with odd obsessions. But how well does Isobel know the adults in her life? Who were they and, more importantly, how did they all come to this place in their lives?
The story unfolds as a historical treatise, starting with the formation of all things, then a brief chronology of the area of England the Fairfaxes have called home, an area William Shakespeare is said to have visited, ending with Gordon's early years, before returning to alternating timelines of present and the past, a past when Gordon, returned from WWII, brought home his bride, Eliza. Family secrets abound as Isobel seeks answers to life's mysteries and her own family's.
As always when I read one of Atkinson's books, I got caught up with the characters and their lives. They're fully realized people, warts and all, and by the end of the book, not everything is what I thought it was, and it's not too many books that can fool me and take my breath away as this one did. I hate saying too much because I'd hate to ruin a wonderful, surprising, amazing, ultimately uplifting, yet poignant reading experience this book is.