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Human Croquet



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About The Author

Kate AtkinsonKate Atkinson

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,... More

photo: Peter Ross

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Reading Group Gold

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Human Croquet are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Human Croquet.



Praise for Human Croquet:

"A literary tour de force."—San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle

"Human Croquet offers further proof that Kate Atkinson is off and running in quite a fantastic direction of her own devising."—Katharine Weber, The New York Times Book Review

"[Kate Atkinson] writes such fluid, sparkling prose that an ingenious plot almost seems too much to ask, but we get it anyway."—Salon.com

"A novel which will dazzle readers for years to come."—Hilary Mantel, London Review of Books



Kate Atkinson, In Her Own Words

How much of your fiction is autobiographical?

"With Behind the Scenes at the Museum, people were always saying, ‘Is it autobiographical?’ It is in some of the details—the toys and games are my toys and games; when Ruby learns to read, that’s me learning to read—but not in the plot. This relentless ‘it has to be autobiographical’ always seems like an insult to me, as if you can’t actually write fiction. So for Human Croquet I wanted to write something that was purely a product of the imagination. To me, the imagination is crucial. Perhaps because I was an only child and an avid reader, I had a very active imagination. I don’t know what sort other people have, because we never talk about our imaginative lives, but I always presumed that mine was psychopathically active."

How do you set out to begin a new novel?

"I love structure; I’m the kind of sad person that likes lit crit. The thing that makes it very difficult for me to write is that I can’t plan at all; the book has to grow out of each sentence, and I’m always on the rolling edge of where I never really know what will happen next. At the same time, I generally start off with structure: I know how I want a book to feel; I know how I want it to be; I don’t know how to get there. So I’m constantly structuring and restructuring as I go along, trying to get it to that place."

Who are some of your favorite writers?

"I’m a big Kurt Vonnegut fan; I think Slaughterhouse-Five is just the best book, because he does what I most admire in ‘60’s writers like Donald Barthelme and Robert Coover: he invests structure with emotion, he gets the balance—which is something I think Jane Austen does, too; I think she’s a more structured writer than we give her credit for, because we end up reading her on TV…I think possibly Joseph Heller does it in Catch-22 as well…And I think The Great Gatsby is just a transcendent sort of book."



Discussion Questions

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, It’s alright, it’s 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 children’s lives?

7. While its opening line ("Call me Isobel.") is a play on Moby Dick, that novel’s 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 you’ve read Human Croquet"). What other references and allusions do you find in the novel?

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