Human Croquet - Kate Atkinson
I'm a big fan of Kate Atkinson's witty prose and oddball characters, but I have to admit that this novel had a degree of weirdness beyond that found in those of her novels which I have read to date. In a mix of first person and third person narratives, it tells the story of Isobel Fairfax, a teenage girl from a most peculiar family, who finds herself unaccountably slipping through pockets of time. And that's the most easily understood part of the plot, because as time goes on, Isobel's life becomes even stranger and increasingly out of control.

It took a while for me to get into the novel, as I found myself initially as annoyed by Isobel's smart mouth and sulleness as I had been charmed by Ruby, the narrator in [b:Behind the Scenes at the Museum|28940|Behind the Scenes at the Museum|Kate Atkinson||29415]. After a while, the narrative became more compelling - but almost unbearably sad - as the reasons for Isobel being the way she is became clearer. Well, sort of clearer, because in many ways what's true and what's not is never entirely resolved as the narrative skip between various realities (or possibly unrealities).

The novel is scattered with literary allusions - the Shakespearean ones being the most obvious to me - and Atkinson's writing is rich in clever wordplay. But ultimately it's one of those works which is exhausting rather than completely satisfying and I can't help but wonder if lots of it went over my head. Overall, this was not an easy book to read and I can't say that the experience was one of unalloyed pleasure. The characters have haunted me though, so that says something about the power of Atkinson's prose.

This isn't a book to read if you need a linear structure, an easily comprehensible plot or a really satisfactory resolution. On the other hand, if you think you come from a dysfunctional family then you haven't met Isobel's relatives and maybe you should make their acquaintance. Or maybe Isobel's family isn't so dysfunctional after all. At the end of the novel I wasn't entirely sure about that point.

This was something good to share with my friend Jemidar, even if we didn't really know what was going on a lot of the time. If someone with a less interesting style had written the novel, I'm not sure whether I would have finished it or how I would have rated it. As it is, Atkinson's writing is impressive, but I don't like this novel nearly as much as [b:Behind the Scenes at the Museum|28940|Behind the Scenes at the Museum|Kate Atkinson||29415] or her Jackson Brodie series. It therefore comes in at 3-1/2 stars.