Synopses & Reviews
New York Times Book Review Notable 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, Kate Atkinson's Human Croquet is rich with the disappointments and possibilities every family shares.
About the Author
Kate Atkinson is the author of several novels, including Behind the Scenes at the Museum, winner of the Whitbread Book of the Year, Human Croquet, Emotionally Weird, Not the End of the World, Case Histories, One Good Turn, and Life after Life. She lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Reading Group Guide
1. What is the significance of the title? Human Croquet is a game in which a blindfolded player is directed through human hoops. Who or what is directing Isobel, and what hoops must she navigate?
2. Objects and people are frequently lost or misplaced throughout the novel, sometimes for good, sometimes just temporarily. What are some examples of this, and what do you think is the point of these goings and comings?
3. Many fairy tales share common character types, settings and situations. What are some of the classic fairy tale motifs that appear in Human Croquet?
4. Isobel observes on page 27 that "absence of Eliza has shaped our lives," and later states that "we are all misshapen in some way, inside or out" (p. 41). What is the significance of shape and physicality to the story?
5. On their way to a fateful picnic, the family "sat on the deck of the bus, on the front seats, and watched the streets of trees go sailing by below. The big branch of a sycamore snapped unexpectedly against the window in front of them, rattling its dead leaves that were like hands, and Eliza said, Its alright, its just a tree and lit a cigarette" (p.107). What does this foreshadow? What is the significance and role of trees throughout the novel?
6. Consider the various kinds of mothers in the book: Eliza, Debbie, Mrs. Potter, Mrs. Baxter, and the Widow. What, if anything, do they have in common? While none of them is perfect, what does Human Croquet seems to say about motherhood and the role of mothers in childrens lives?
7. While its opening line ("Call me Isobel.") is a play on Moby Dick, that novels influence is less evident throughout Human Croquet than other books, plays, and movies (Kate Atkinson said in an interview that one of her two favorite films is "‘Groundhog Day, which you can probably tell if youve read Human Croquet"). What other references and allusions do you find in the novel?