Once the great forest of Lythe was a vast, impenetrable thicket with a mystery at its heart. And here, in the beginning, was Fairfax Manor. But the forest became Streets of Trees: Chestnut Avenue, Laurel Bank, and Sycamore Street. The Fairfaxes dwindled too and now lived in Hawthorne Close; Vinny, Gordon, fat Debbie, and Charles and Isobel, the children. The story belongs to Isobel. Born in the middle of the twentieth century, she drops into pockets of time waiting for the return of Eliza, her mother, whose disappearance is part of the mystery that remains at the heart of the forest.
Human Croquet is a game in which some people act as hoops while others propel a blindfolded "ball" around the course. Though the game is never actually played in Kate Atkinson's remarkable novel, Human Croquet
, the parallels between plot and pastime are undeniable. Atkinson, winner of the 1995 Whitbread Award in Britain, tells the story of Isobel Fairfax and her older brother, Charles. The children's parents vanished when they were young, leaving them to the care of their grandmother, now dead, and their Aunt Vinny. Recently their father has returned with "the Debbie-wife" in tow, and they all live in Arden, the family's ancestral home built on the foundations of the original manor house that burned to the ground in 1605. According to family legend, the first Fairfax took a wife who mysteriously disappeared one day, leaving in her wake a curse on the Fairfax name. More than 300 years later, Fairfax descendants are still struggling with this painful legacy.
Atkinson's novel is obviously not rooted in dull reality. Narrator Isobel has an uncanny knowledge of past and future events; Charles is obsessed with the concept of parallel universes and time travel; and a faery curse hangs over everybody. Fortunately, Kate Atkinson is a masterful writer who manages to keep her world of wonders in check. Human Croquet is no ordinary novel, and readers who venture into the Fairfax universe are in for a magical ride.