I've really enjoyed all of Kate Atkinson novels, be they her stand-alone novels or her Jackson Brodie crime fiction series, so I was really looking forward to Human Croquet, her only novel that I had yet to read. It came as her second novel after her brilliant debut Behind the Scenes at the Museum, and really suffers in comparison.Human Croquet is quite similar to Behind the Scenes in that it deals with a mysterious event, in this case the disappearance of their mother, that leaves an imprint on the lives of Isobel and Charles, leaving a constant identity crisis on both of them. It also explores the impact that trauma can have on people, as did Behind the Scenes, and also plays with time quite fluidly-though in my opinion without the success of her former novel.The novel was very much not without merit, however. Isobel, in whose head we are in for the majority of the novel is a great protagonist. She's not the most likeable character in the world, but Atkinson writes her brilliantly. As with Ruby Lennox in Behind the Scenes, Isobel is not always the most likeable character, and she has a narrative voice that is probably a little more mature than the average teenager. However, her preoccupations, such as wanting to be the girlfriend of the town's most attractive guy, are very recognisable. Again, as with Behind the Scenes, Atkinson creates wonderful, well-developed characters, especially her female ones. As with a few of her novels, the male characters tend to be a little useless. Isobel's father is a bit of a damp squib, and Mr Rice the lodger and her best friend's father Mr Baxter both are less than pleasant characters. However, in addition to Isobel, Atkinson's female characters are generally really multi-faceted. Isobel's school friends are very well drawn, as is Aunt Vinny who is given weight beyond the single-woman-with-cats stereotype she appears to be, their Grandmother in flashback sequences and Mrs Baxter, Isobel's somewhat surrogate mother. My personal favourite character was Eliza, Isobel and Charles' disappeared mother, whose story is revealed through flashbacks. She was incredibly well painted, with all of her flaws, and I could not help by sympathise with her situation.However, the constant references to abuse of women by men was a little despairing; it would have been nice to see maybe one well-adjusted relationship so that we could understand why Isobel so wanted to be someone's girlfriend-when the majority of the evidence presented in the novel was that being in a relationship would just lead to misery. Another problem I had with the novel was the jumping time frames. Although for the most part they were simple enough, flicking back in time in order to gain back story, Isobel's random forays into the past seemed to have little point. The several different endings to the novel also confused me, whilst one was clearly a wish-fulfilment fantasy, both the others seemed plausible, and I was left confused by the end as to what really happened. This is probably one for Atkinson fans only, as I don't think new readers would be encouraged to explore the rest of her canon after this. Her wonderful writing and characterisation did save it from a poorer review, but I'd recommend any of her other novels over this one.